WCS has a long, rich history in whale conservation. In the early 20th century, New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and aquarium curator Dr. Charles Townsend combed through whaling logbooks and plotted where the American Pelagic fleet had killed whales. The results included the first detailed records showing major breeding and feeding grounds (where whalers targeted their efforts). Referred to as the Townsend charts, these syntheses still have considerable use today for historical distribution by range-state governments and other inter-governmental organizations, such as IUCN and the International Whaling Commission.
In the 1990s, WCS's Dr. Howard Rosenbaum led the first expeditions to ascertain the status of Southern Hemisphere (SH) humpback whale populations following the end of the commercial whaling era. These first efforts targeted areas in the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, where the status and recovery of humpback whales were poorly known. They included surveys to understand humpback whales' seasonal presence/habitat use, as well as their broader population recovery and genetic structure throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Nearly two decades of significant discoveries and achievements have followed these initial contributions (e.g., Madagascar's first whale-watching law) contributing to the conservation of and science around SH humpback whales.
Today, our findings continue to deepen the understanding of these extraordinary marine mammals and provide essential science for conservation management and policies. This at a time when whales face growing threats from human activities, including entanglement in fishing gear; ocean pollutants; and noise from shipping, military, and industrial activities. Climate change may prove harmful, including potentially affecting the abundance and distribution of prey species. Addressing these challenges requires international cooperation among scientists, conservation groups, international organizations, and governments.
The first step to creating comprehensive protection plans for the different whale species is to figure out how much variation there is between populations and determine what areas, particularly breeding and feeding grounds, are most important to their protection. WCS's Ocean Giants Program is a recognized leader in such efforts. And we're doing this around the world, from New York's waters and Arctic Beringia to the Western Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Guinea, Patagonia, and the Bay of Bengal.
These national and regional conservation efforts gain international relevance through our work with the International Whaling Commission, IUCN, and the Convention on Migratory Species.