Whales of the USA West Coast, amidst dangers and hidden threats

What are the whales that live between California, Oregon and Washington: the threats that weigh on them

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Whales of the USA West Coast, amidst dangers and hidden threats
© David McNew / Staff Getty Images News

The whales that inhabit the West Coast of the United States of America are one of the most fascinating and spectacular attractions for nature lovers. These magnificent creatures, also known as cetaceans, include several species including the gray whale, blue whale, fin whale and minke whale.

Each species has unique characteristics and represents an essential part of the marine ecosystem. One of the most iconic whales on the West Coast is undoubtedly the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus). These whales migrate from their breeding area in the Arctic to the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, often passing near the west coast of the United States. Gray whales are notoriously known for their impressive size which can reach 15-16 meters in length and their distinctive gray colour, which often appears stained by marine parasites.

Another species of whale that can be observed on the West Coast is the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the largest living animal on Earth. These majestic creatures can reach a length of over 30 meters and weigh up to 200 tons.

They are famous for their shades of blue and the lengths of their dorsal fins. The blue whale is a true sight to behold as it emerges from the water with its distinctive water column and tail rising into the calm waters. The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is another species of whale that is often spotted off the West Coast.

These whales can reach a length of around 20 meters and can be identified by their dark gray back and the presence of long, thin pectoral fins. Fin whales feed mainly on plankton and small fish and are often seen hunting with open-mouthed prey, creating so-called wolfmouths.

Whales of the USA West Coast, amidst dangers and hidden threats

Unfortunately, these beautiful creatures are threatened by various dangers along the West Coast. One of the main threats is collisions with ships. Due to heavy shipping traffic in coastal waters, whales often find themselves in the path of large vessels which can cause serious harm or even death to the animals.

Another danger to whales is posed by fishing nets. Whales can become entangled in fishing nets or hooks, making it difficult for them to free themselves and putting them at risk of drowning or serious injury. Efforts are being made to reduce these interactions, for example by adapting nets to make them more whale-friendly.

Pollution is another major threat to whales. The buildup of chemicals in the marine environment, such as pesticides and heavy metals, can harm the health of whales, affecting their immune and reproductive systems. Furthermore, noise pollution caused by noise from boats and human activities can disturb the communication and navigation of whales, compromising their survival.

Reducing food supplies is another problem whales face along the West Coast. Climate change and alterations to the marine ecosystem are reducing the availability of food for whales, putting their livelihood and health at risk.

To preserve these magnificent creatures and their habitat, it is essential to take measures to reduce collisions with vessels, regulate fishing activities to reduce interactions with nets and reduce marine pollution. The conservation and protection of West Coast whales is critical to maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems and ensuring that future generations can admire and learn from these extraordinary ocean creatures.