The sighting of a whale or a dolphin is so special every time, and as a sailor I feel lucky whenever I see them! But it is really hard for me to say if I’m more or less lucky this year over the past. The thing is, all these big animals are really mobile, and can migrate thousands of miles after food or to follow seasons to give birth to their young in the right conditions. Some years you see more, some years less, really depending on where you happen to be and how lucky you are! But I think what you really want to know is if whales and dolphins are getting more rare.
Let’s think what kinds of things would decrease this kind of marine fauna. Well, whaling, of course, but that is really on a historic low right now and so many whale populations are thought to be slowly rebuilding. Ship strikes and the fact that there is a lot of noise now in the ocean from shipping activity are real threats to whales, but it is encouraging to know that there are efforts going on world wide to try to work on these problems.
With dolphins, the big threats come from the fishing industry. On one hand the biggest fishing boats can catch dolphins directly in their nets and kill them that way. Many dolphin species have co-evolved with tuna in their hunting behavior for fish, and schools of tuna are often found together with large pods of dolphins. Tuna are overfished globally, and the consequences of this is of great concern for dolphins as well!
To really try to answer the big question of what is happening to these animals, there are many dedicated researchers and organizations trying to monitor marine mammals in the same breeding or feeding grounds year after year. Here in the US., for example, our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has the job of keeping track of the marine mammal stocks (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/). In France, such studies are conducted by agencies like Agence des aires marines protégées (Marine mammal monitoring – Agence des aires marines protégées).
So for us sailors, we treasure the sightings of these magnificent animals, but for a better answer to your question, check out the links I provided above.
Thanks for your question Axelle, and I hope there are many more dolphin sightings in your future!
Question submitted by Axelle, age 10, Boulogne Billancourt, France