Despite living in the water, whales breathe air like humans. That’s not the only quality we share with them. Whales are intelligent and social; and any encounter we have with them is inevitably described as “magical.”

Big, charismatic animals, such as polar bears and bison, are the ones that seem to grab our hearts—sometimes to the exclusion of other, well-deserving but smaller threatened species. At other times, especially when large species are mostly hidden from our everyday lives and it’s unlikely to ever encounter them, the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind” comes into play. That appears to be the case with whales.

According to World Wildlife Fund, although whales are enormous, at the top of the food chain and play an important part in the overall health of the marine environment, seven out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable.

Today, the main threats to whales come from industry—such as collisions with ships, pollution of the oceans and entanglement in fishing gear—commercial whaling and climate change. Noise caused by shipping activity and oil and gas development can disrupt whales’ hearing, keep them from getting to critical feeding and breeding grounds, and change their migratory paths to less optimal routes.


“Out of sight, out of mind” is an old expression that most of us have found to be true. But if we could encounter whales every day swimming among us in our neighborhoods, would we care more about their protection?

The loss of sea ice and warming waters in the Arctic and Antarctic are affecting the habitats and food of whales. The plants and animals they feed on will likely move or wane in numbers as climate change alters temperatures, winds and ocean currents. Many whale species may have to migrate much further to reach feeding grounds, leaving them with less time and energy to forage for food. In fact, the reproductive rates of the endangered North Atlantic right whale have recently decreased due to the shift in food availability. As little as 300 of these whales remain. Other whale species’ population numbers vary from 10,000 to 90,000.

Watch the short, surreal video below. Made by Gentleman Scholar for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, it suggests that if whales could swim in our midst on land, perhaps we would care more about protecting them. The producers suggest you watch this video in full-screen mode.

Good idea.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,