Rabbits of the sea in Australia. The Humpback whale is making a comeback. We have heard for years that many species of whales have been decimated by unrestricted whaling, and even by legal whaling. The habits of the whalers of old, and tales of Moby Dick, just don’t seem to go away, despite some government restrictions. We have almost reached the point of accepting that whales will disappear from our oceans.
This story may change that perspective, and regenerate our hopes and wishes.
An Economist headline caught my attention this week. It read “Australia’s whales are breeding like rabbits”.
At this time of year, if you stand on the sea cliffs around Sydney you can witness one of nature’s great migrations. It rivals the Wildebeest and Zebra migrations of Africa’s Serengeti plains. Not in sheer numbers, but certainly in spectacle. Between May and November upwards of 40,000 Humpback whales commute along Australia’s eastern coast. They move from their Antarctic feeding grounds to where they give birth, around the Great Barrier Reef.
Australian Humpback whales were hunted to near extinction. The slaughter was stopped in the 1960’s. The Australian East Coast humpback whale population was down to about 200 individuals. The comeback has been remarkable. The current population is estimated to be more than their numbers before commercial whaling started over a hundred years ago. One Australian researcher described it as “almost biologically implausible”. Hence the description, “rabbits of the sea”.
Unfortunately, the temptation will be for the government to remove the “endangered species” title from Humpback whales on the basis that they have recovered, and that the limited funding available for conservation efforts needs to be focused elsewhere. We don’t seem to learn that such refocus of attention and funding almost always comes too soon. The human race is far too quick to assume that all is well and we can forget the problem. The fits and starts of the current pandemic recovery are a particularly bad example of this tendency.
I would urge the Australian authorities to give it a few years, and continue to work on the problems that still exist for the Humpback whales, like getting caught in nets, ocean noise pollution, and the pollution that kills the whales’ main source of food, the krill. They may be breeding like rabbits, but it’s way too early to assume we don’t have to worry about them anymore.
Admittedly, the other concerns and priorities are valid. The habitat of the Koala is being decimated at an estimated rate of a stadium-sized area of forest and bushland every two (2) minutes. Bush fires kill enormous numbers of animals, although many of Australia plants and trees need fire to propagate. It is a difficult balance to support those species that really need help while still protecting those that don’t seem to need our help anymore. If we get it wrong, many species will disappear.
We should always remember that we created most of the species-disappearing problems in the first place and act accordingly.
In the meantime, Australia’s “rabbits of the sea” should be encouraged to continue their breeding habits.