Whale songs spread like pop music around the ocean. If one whale’s song is catchy enough, it will be adopted by other whales, rising in popularity until a new song catches on.Take Action ↓
For generations, whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals have captured the imaginations and affections of people around the world.
In Ancient Greece, killing a dolphin was considered sacrilegious and was punishable by death. Amongst many Native American tribes in the North Pacific, sea otters are featured on totem poles, often honored as the sacred messenger between humans and the creator. During the Middle Ages, the long tusks of narwhals were often gifted to royalty, passed off as rare unicorn horns. Throughout some regions of Thailand, people still believe that a dugong’s tears can form a powerful love potion. Perhaps the reason so many myths and legends surround marine mammals is because they can be so human like.
“Cultures have long heard wisdom in non-human voices: Apollo, god of music, medicine and knowledge, came to Delphi in the form of a dolphin. But dolphins, which fill the oceans with blipping and chirping, and whales, which mew and caw in ultramarine jazz – a true rhapsody in blue – are hunted to the edge of silence.” Jay Griffiths
Over 2,400 years ago, Aristotle recognized that whales are mammals, rather than fish, because they breathe air and nurse their young. Since then, we’ve discovered more and more connections between ourselves and these ocean giants. For instance, female humpback whales have best friends that they reunite with during their annual summer migrations. Dolphins have names, or unique little whistles, which other dolphins then recognize and use to communicate. Sea otters use tools, such as rocks and sticks, to hunt and feed. We’ve learned that marine mammals can develop individual personalities, that they experience compassion, that certain species adhere to complex social hierarchies, and that they mourn their dead. Yet, despite being some of the most iconic figureheads of our blue planet, marine mammals retain their mysterious nature— roaming the depths of the world’s ocean, echoing hauntingly beautiful songs.
Marine mammals have so much to teach us, especially when it comes to ocean health. At the top of the food chain, walruses, seals, and other marine mammals are important indicators of declining fish populations and the presence of pollution. Currently, well over 25% of marine mammals species are threatened with extinction, with sufficient data lacking on an additional 30%. Whether directly or indirectly, human activities are largely responsible for the demise of these ocean giants.
Centuries of aggressive hunting, combined with extensive habitat destruction, ocean trash, fossil fuel pollution, reckless shipping, and increased ocean noise have reduced marine mammal populations to just a fraction of their original numbers. Dugong populations along Australia’s east coast, for instance, have declined by roughly 95% over the past 60 years; while Antarctica’s blue whales remain at less than 1% of their original abundance, despite over 40 years of concentrated protective measures. Many species are at the brink of extinction.
Slow to mature and reproduce, marine mammals cannot bounce back like other sea creatures, yet we depend on their existence for maintaining a balanced ocean. Migrating vast distances, marine mammals are the great connectors of our blue planet, and protecting them requires global action along a united front. Protecting our ocean giants is bigger than any one of us.