Collateral damage to marine and terrestrial ecosystems from Yankee whaling in the 19th century

Drew, Joshua Adam; Lopez, Elora H.; Gill, Lucy; McKeon, Mallory; Miller, Nathan; Steinberg, Madeline; McClenachan, Loren; Shen, Christa

Yankee whalers of the 19th century had major impacts on populations of large whales, but these leviathans were not the only taxa targeted. Here, we describe the “collateral damage,” the opportunistic or targeted taking of nongreat whale species by the American whaling industry. Using data from 5,064 records from 79 whaling logs occurring between 1840 and 1901, we show that Yankee whalers captured 5,255 animals across three large ocean basins from 32 different taxonomic categories, including a wide range of marine and terrestrial species. The taxa with the greatest number of individuals captured were walruses (Odobenus rosmarus), ducks (family Anatidae), and cod (Gadus sp.). By biomass, the most captured species were walruses, grampus (a poorly defined group within Odontoceti), and seals (family Otariidae). The whalers captured over 2.4 million kg of nongreat whale meat equaling approximately 34 kg of meat per ship per day at sea. The species and areas targeted shifted over time in response to overexploitation of whale populations, with likely intensive local impacts on terrestrial species associated with multiyear whaling camps. Our results show that the ecosystem impacts of whaling reverberated on both marine and coastal environments.


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Ecology and Evolution

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Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Published Here
December 13, 2016