Due their preference for deep, open waters and their fast speeds, fin whales mostly eluded early 19th century whalers. However, with the advent of steam-powered engines and exploding harpoons in the 20th century, fin whales became accessible for the growing whaling industry. Fin whales were commonly hunted for their blubber, baleen, and oil, and like most other whale species, were harvested on an industrial level. From 1904 to 1975, well over 7, 000,000 whales were taken worldwide – causing massive reductions in fin whale populations. Catches began to decline dramatically in the 1960’s, and in 1976, the International Whaling Commission set a moratorium on fin whale hunting in the Southern Hemisphere. Some exceptions still exist for scientific research and aboriginal traditions, but hunting for all other purposes is now banned worldwide (with the exception of Norway and Iceland who officially objected to the prohibition).
Current numbers of fin whales are difficult to estimate, but all of their populations across the globe are listed as endangered by CITES, the US National Marine Fisheries Service, and the International Conservation Union Red List. Rough estimates put the current number of fin whales between 40, 000 and 56, 000.