Sperm Whales Still Haven't Recovered More Than 35 Years After Australia Stopped Harpooning Them

A beached sperm whal. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

New research shows that sperm whales, the last whales to be harpooned by Australia, have still not recovered more than 35 years after the last whale was killed in the Southern Ocean.

There’s been good news about the recovery of the coast-hugging humpback and southern right whales in Australian waters almost to the extent where they’re no longer endangered.

“But we can’t let these good news stories blind us to the fact that the other great whales are in real trouble,” says lead researcher Robert Harcourt of Macquarie University.

Harcourt and his team investigated the status of mature sperm bulls off Albany, Western Australia. The last sperm whale was harpooned off Albany on November 21, 1978.

This whale species suffered major losses during Australia’s peak whaling periods, seeing a population reduction of 74% between 1955 and 1978.

“To measure the contemporary status of sperm whales off the Western Australia coast we conducted an aerial survey comparable to those done by whaling companies historically,” he says.

“To our great surprise, despite complete protection since 1978, there is no evidence that sperm whales are recovering.”

The team then looked overseas and sperm whales are not recovering anywhere they were heavily exploited.

The results of the study, No evidence for recovery in the population of sperm whale bulls off Western Australia, 30 years post-whaling, are published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

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