Again. And for now. And off the California coast.
Blue whales are the largest, heaviest animals ever known to exist on this planet. Growing to nearly 100 feet and weighing more than 160 tons, they're more than twice as large as even the biggest land dinosaurs that have been discovered to date.
So it's stunning to think that humans nearly eradicated these whales entirely in the 20th century…
Prior to the late 19th century, blue whales were simply too big and powerful to pursue. But the advent of steamboats and advanced harpoon guns made it easier to go after much larger whales for oil and meat — and catches soon began surging, first in Iceland and Norway, then around the world.
By the time the International Whaling Commission banned blue-whale hunting in 1966 — and after illicit Soviet whaling finally tapered off in the 1970s — most of the damage was done. Roughly 380,000 blue whales had been killed in all, and the species was at 0.2 percent of its initial numbers.
Now there are signs that the whales are starting to recover. The latest paper, by Cole Monnahan, Trevor Branch and André Punt of the University of Washington, estimates that there are currently some 2,200 California blue whales in the eastern North Pacific — more or less the number that existed in the region before the advent of whaling.
What's more, they conclude that the blue whale population has now plateaued because it's nearly reached the maximum size that this region of the ocean will support — and not because too many whales are being killed by ship strikes, as some researchers had previously thought.
Head over to Vox to read all of Brad Plumer’s explanation---that’s what they do at Vox, explain things.---California blue whales, once nearly extinct, are back at historic levels.