Saving the whales is a leviathan task

Richard Branson on board Necker Belle

Today I travel on Necker Belle, with my OceanElders hat on, out to the Atlantic breeding ground for Humpback whales. This will be a day to celebrate the success of the international community in coming together to save these beautiful species.

It's strange to think that only 100 years ago the largest employer of people in the United States was the whaling industry. They drove a number of species of whales into extinction. The North Atlantic grey whale for example and the beautiful Stella sea cow were also killed off for their oil. The Right whale was reduced to around 60 individuals. They were called the Right whale as they were easy to hunt because they were slow moving. They floated when they were killed and had lots of blubber that could be boiled into oil.

The Right whale has slowly climbed back to 350 individuals in the world from only five different mothers. In a good year, there are about 20 new calves born. If the copepods they feed on have a low outbreak, then some years no new calves are born at all.

Today the biggest threat to them is getting entangled in fishing gear or hit by boats going too fast in Cape Cod or the Bay of Fundy. The OceanElders and others will work with the fishing community and boat owners to try to address these issues by moving fishing lanes and reducing the speed of boats.

The Humpback whale on the other hand has made a remarkable recovery. From all over the Atlantic, North, South, East and West, 15,000 whales travel to one sand bank off the north of the Dominican Republic to breed between February and March. Tomorrow we'll be fortunate to go and swim with them and celebrate the success of the international community in protecting this particular species. It shows what can be done when the world works as one.

There's still work to be done to make sure that the Japanese Government does not use its financial muscle with small island communities to overturn the ban, plus work to be done to persuade them to stop taking 600 Minke whales and 50 Fin whales every year.

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