As of September 7th, most humpback whale populations have been taken off of the endangered species list. According to an article by The
Associated Press, federal authorities believe that their population has risen enough to be considered normal.
It wasn’t that long ago that humpback whales were being hunted almost to extinction, so this is very exciting and wonderful news. In 1946 the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling regulated commercial whaling of humpback whales. Twenty years later whaling of humpbacks became prohibited by the International Whaling Commission.
It wasn’t until 1970 that humpback whales became listed as endangered by the Endangered Species Conservation Act. Since then multiple species of humpbacks fell under the endangered species category due to various threats which depleted their numbers. in many cases these whales struck by ships in passing. Whale watching ships have also contributed to this whether they have actually struck them, or have caused them stress and harassment.
Oceanic traffic has also contributed to separating groups of whales by creating noise and making it difficult for whales to communicate with each other. More threats include entanglement in fishing equipment as well. The overwhelming human presence in areas have caused humpbacks to move to areas they otherwise wouldn’t occupy.
However, recent conservation efforts have made an enormous difference in the last few years. Some of the efforts include conducting studies, informing and educating whale watch ships on the possible threat they pose and how they can reduce risk and provide a safe environment for both the whales and and their clients. These educational programs include ‘Whale SENSE’ and the ‘See A Spout’ program. In addition, reducing the bycatch and trap/pot fisheries in the North Atlantic has also helped immensely.
In a statement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, otherwise known as the NOAA,
” In September 2016, we revised the ESA listing for the humpback whale to identify 14 Distinct Population Segments (DPS), list 1 as threatened, 4 as endangered, and identify 9 others as not warranted for listing. We also issued two final rules governing approach of humpback whales in Alaska and Hawaii. The first re-codifies existing approach regulations in Alaskan waters under the ESA so they apply to both threatened and endangered humpback whales, and adds similar approach regulations under the MMPA to protect all humpback whales found off Alaska.”
Rather than treating the humpback whales as one single population, they have been split into 14 segments in order to properly give them the help they need. The MMPA, or the Marine Mammal Protection Act serves to protect these whales by creating restrictions on how close ships can get to the whales in both Hawaii and Alaska.
While much has been done to help these populations in these areas, the job is not done. Populations of whales residing in Mexico, Central America, are still listed as endangered or threatened.
Under these new rules the various populations of whales are a mixed bag, especially with varying migratory patterns. However, progress is progress, and hopefully with these new programs and federal rulings in place, the entire humpback population will rise and ultimately be removed from the endangered species list.