The normal end of life event for any apex animal is starvation. Sure, things like cancer, heart attacks, strokes, they all happen too. But age catches up, they can’t hunt or feed effectively, they die of starvation. Lions lose their teeth, orcas their speed and whales? Well, whales just starve.
So, when the population is at or beyond the limits the environment can support we should be hunting them, right?
U.S. biologists probe deaths of 70 emaciated gray whales
The corpses of these whales are washing up in the US West Coast.
Many have little body fat, leading experts to suspect the die-off is caused by declining food sources in the dramatically warming waters of the northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea off Alaska. The gray whales summer there, consuming most of a year’s worth of nourishment to pack on the blubber they need to carry them through the migration south to wintering grounds off Mexico and back north to feeding grounds off Alaska. Sea ice has been at or near record lows in the Bering and Chukchi, and water temperatures have been persistently much higher than normal, an apparent consequence of human-caused climate change, scientists say.
That is one possibility, certainly. But there’s another, one entirely natural:
Another theory is that the number of whales has reached the limits of the environment’s natural capacity to sustain further population growth, scientists said on the call. The current estimated population of eastern North Pacific gray whales is about 27,000, the highest recorded by the agency since it began gray whale surveys in 1967, said biologist David Weller.
Now the thing is that is the natural world. Populations expand to meet the available food supply – or more accurately the ecological niche they occupy. As Malthus pointed out that natural increase is very much faster than any increase in that food supply – and in the absence of farming that’s the way it’s going to stay.
Populations therefore do increase to the point that significant numbers of them starve. For non-apex animals this is offset by the number of predators that eat them instead. This not being something that normally happens to gray whales. Sure, orcas might take a calf but once to adulthood it’s lack of food that’s going to take them.
We’ve stopped predating upon gray whales. Thus the marginal population is starving to death. If we want to stop that then we should predate again.
The way to stop whales starving to death is to resume hunting whales.