Should humpback whales be removed from the endangered species list?

Humpback whale DPS identification (NOAA).

Humpback whale DPS identification (NOAA).

On Monday 20th April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed removing over two-thirds of the world’s humpback whale population from the endangered species list.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, humpback whales were heavily hunted for whale oil, fertilizer, meat and pet food, which sent their numbers plummeting. The International Whaling Commission banned hunting humpback whales in 1966, but the population had reduced so significantly that they were one of the first animals listed for protection in 1970, which came into effect in 1973. The commission put a stop to all commercial whaling in 1986 under a global moratorium. Currently, the humpback whale is still listed as endangered throughout its entire range.

NOAA fisheries conducted an extensive review of the status of humpback whales and has found that populations have rebounded in many areas since commercial whaling was banned, placing the global population at 90,000.

NOAA’s proposal would reclassify humpback whales into 14 distinct population segments and remove 10 of the world’s 14 from the endangered species list. The Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa and Arabian Sea populations would remain listed as endangered and the Western North Pacific and the Central America populations would remain in the category of threatened.

The other 10 populations would still be protected under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act and internationally under the International Whaling Commissions’ global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Scientists say that some humpback populations were hunted more than others and for longer periods, which explains why some populations have not yet recovered. The Arabian Sea population is estimated at under 100 whereas approximately 21,800 travel between Antarctica and Western Australia.

Although it is a good sign that humpback whales’ numbers have risen over the last 40 years, delisting them may be premature. The oceans are constantly changing and the whales are under constant threats such as climate change, ocean acidification, bycatch, ship strikes, energy development and pollution.

The proposal is now open for a 90 day public comment period. The whole process of delisting the whales from the endangered species list will take roughly 12 months.

Photo credit: Underwater Photography Guide

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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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