Hunting for a Number

How many whales did we take from the deep blue sea? Now we know.

March 12, 2015

Scientists have finally figured out how many whales we've hunted just in the last century for their oil and baleen: close to three million. That's the largest killing of any one animal by humans in history, at least in terms of biomass.

Before now, researchers were reluctant to affix a number to our whale destruction because figures compiled by the International Whaling Commission—the group that keeps track of what countries killed what whales—were unreliable. This new estimate, however, takes into account illegal whaling by the former Soviet Union to give us a more realistic stat. And it still might be low.

Aside from being a bit, well, depressing, considering that some species like the North Atlantic right whale are still teetering on the brink of extinction, the information gives us a better idea of how many whales the sea can support. Turns out it’s even bigger than we imagined. 

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


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