19 February: World Whale Day

19 February: World Whale Day

19 February 2022

Every year on 19 February the world marks International Marine Mammal Protection Day, or World Whale Day. It has been observed since 1986, when the International Whaling Commission imposed a ban on whaling.


The dwindling number of whales and other marine mammals results in a biological imbalance in marine ecosystems. There are 119 species of marine mammals on the Earth today. Most are on the verge of extinction.


“Cetaceans are very vulnerable. The main threats they face are ocean pollution, whaling, ship noise, and possible entanglement in fishing gear,” a RIA Novosti article says.


The need to protect the most vulnerable marine mammals was among the reasons to establish the largest marine nature reserve in Russia: the Komandorsky Biosphere Reserve in the Kamchatka Territory. Since 1993, the archipelago has protected large rookeries of northern fur seals and sea lions. Sea otters and insular seals listed in the Russian Red Data Book inhabit the area, and Baird's beaked whales, humpback whales and sperm whales swim safely in the waters, far from maritime routes.


Marine mammals such as belugas, narwhals, bowhead whales, minke whales, and possibly fin whales and humpback whales live in the waters of Russian Arctic National Park.  Atlantic walruses, which set up numerous coastal rookeries in the summer, Baikal seals, bearded seals and harp seals also reside in the national park.


Thirteen whale species live in the Kronotsky Biosphere Reserve (Kamchatka Territory). The migration routes of grey whales pass through protected areas. This species is protected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and also by the Red Data Books of Russia and Kamchatka.


In 2021, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment hosted a meeting on conserving and recovering cetaceans, where experts presented draft strategies on how to conserve the Russian bowhead and grey whales in the Sea of Okhotsk. Today the Sea of Okhotsk is home to one of the smallest populations of bowhead whales, with a little over 200 whales. In 2019, these whales were included in the list of rare and endangered animals in need of priority recovery and reintroduction measures.


In December 2021, President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed a law prohibiting the commercial and coastal fishing of whales, dolphins and porpoises. The document is published on the official legal information website. In addition, restrictions may be put on the fishing of marine mammals in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian Federation in order to protect marine mammals, including prohibiting and shutting down fishery of some species entirely.


Previously, marine mammal fishing was based on quotas from the Federal Agency for Fishery. Animal rights activists actively opposed this policy, because mammals such as killer whales, dolphins, beluga whales and other rare and valuable species were at risk of being caught.


There are plans to open the first whaling museum on the Shantar Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk, the main area in the northern Pacific where whales were fished. According to Vladimir Andronov, head of the Zapovednoye Priamurye Directorate of State Nature Reserves and National Parks, the museum will display equipment that was used for whaling, which almost caused the extinction of marine mammals.