Sep
11
2007

Upon further review, gray whale numbers aren’t so strong

Count me, too: According to new research, the Pacific gray whale population hasn't rebounded nearly as strong as orginally thought, with global warming and other environmental changes being factors in limiting their comeback.
Count me, too: According to new research, the Pacific gray whale population hasn't rebounded nearly as strong as orginally thought, with global warming and other environmental changes being factors in limiting their comeback.
It was thought to be one of the big success stories of the eco-generation – Pacific gray whale numbers rebounding levels thought to be their population level before wide-scale commercial hunting efforts started decades ago.

But under closer scrutiny, new studies show that the gray whale populations aren’t as large as first thought. Original estimates through a genome study conducted by Stanford and Washington universities had pegged the gray whale population at 96,000. But new data now has scaled back those numbers to around 22,000, which is about one quarter the number of Pacific gray whales that were in the Pacific before whaling efforts began.

Researchers are pointing to a couple of factors for scaling back their estimates: global warming and changes in the Pacific Ocean’s ecosystem.

Global warming is decreasing the amount of food animals the gray whales are able to find in their northern home around the Bering Sea. Researchers have found increasing numbers of thin and starving gray whales in that region.

The grays’ near extinction may have also caused other changes in the ocean’s balance of nature that may limit to stunt their ability to recover to their pre-whaling ban levels. That’s kind of a complex situation.

When gray whales feed, they go deep to the ocean bottom and “plow-up” sediment to shake loose little ocean critters. Their lack of doing that over decades of over whaling may have tipped the scales of nature’s balance in providing less habitat for those types of little sea creatures. And gray whales aren’t the only ones to be impacted by that.

Sea birds also depend the grays’ sea bottom churning action as well and less churning means less food for the birds to feed on.

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