Baleen whales have long suffered from the pressure of anthropogenic activities. In the past, these animals were severely affected by the practice of whaling, a very important economic activity between the 16th and mid 20th centuries. In the Azores, this economic activity also existed, targeting sperm whales, not baleen whales. It is thought that in certain places, due to this practice, some species have seen their populations reduced to nearly extinction, having survived only 1% of the worldwide population, for example in the case of blue whales. Fortunately, due to a global conservation effort on the part of non-governmental, governmental entities and the scientific communities, it was possible to promote a gradual recovery of these populations, despite the fact that they continue to be under pressure from various human activities.
The most important threat to baleen whales is the collision with vessels, which is recognised as the main cause of death nowadays. During the breeding season, in feeding grounds, or along seasonal migration routes, the risk of collision with vessels is high, and increases in areas with high maritime traffic densities.
Other pressures to which these whales are subjected are entanglement in fishing gear, ingestion of marine litter, noise, pollution, harassment by maritime-touristic activity, and in the medium-to-long term, climate change. Although all these threats occur in the Azores, their current level of risk is still unknown. For this reason, the LIFE-IP Azores Natura project seeks to increase knowledge about the threat levels to which these individuals are subject, in order to mitigate the adoption of specific measures to improve their conservation status.
Photo credits: Richard Sears