An Earth Day success story! Most humpback whale populations may soon be off the endangered species list. “We live in an age where all we hear is terrible news,” says one expert. “[T]he fact that something as iconic and amazing as a humpback whale can be taken off the endangered list is a phenomenal thing.” (San Jose Mercury News)
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- Good news for the marvelous Megaptera! NOAA Fisheries has proposed taking ten populations of humpback whales off the endangered species list. Why?
- According to the San Jose Mercury News, “most humpback hunting ended worldwide by 1966 with an international agreement, [and] the U.S. government officially banned commercial hunting of all whales in 1971.”
- “They have come back because we stopped killing them. It’s that simple,” said John Calambokidis, a biologist with Cascadia Research, a scientific organization specializing in whale research. Read more about Calambokidis and humpback whales in our article!
- Why has NOAA suggested dividing the world’s humpback whales in to 14 distinct groups?
- “[T]he populations are largely independent of each other,” according to Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Managing them separately allows us to focus protection on the animals that need it the most.”
- NOAA has not proposed that all humpbacks should be off the list. Where do threatened and endangered populations remain?
- Threatened: NOAA proposes the Central American population (off the Pacific coast of Central America) and the Western North Pacific population (around the Philippines) be classified as threatened.
- Endangered: NOAA proposes the Arabian Sea population (between the eastern Arabian Peninsula and the western Indian subcontinent) and the West African population (off Africa’s northwest Atlantic coast) remain listed as endangered.
- If humpback whales are no longer on the endangered species list, does that mean hunting humpback whales will be allowed?
- Hold on, humpbacks are not off the endangered species list yet! NOAA just proposed the new classification this week, and will consider public comments for 90 days. (You’re the public! Comment here—let the good folks at NOAA know if you support the delisting or not, and why.)
- And No! Even if taken off the endangered species list, humpbacks and other whales are still protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act in the U.S.
- FYI: Worldwide, humpback whales are not an endangered species. (In fact, they’re a species of “least concern.”) Hunting of humpback whales is largely isolated to indigenous populations in the Caribbean and Greenland, who hunt fewer than 10 animals each year. Japanese whaling ships have also infrequently hunted humpbacks.
- Many other cetaceans, including blue whales and right whales, remain endangered. Why have humpbacks bounced back while other whales in the same habitats are so much slower to recover?
- What threats remain for all humpback whale populations?
- entanglements in fishing gear (Extra credit: Read this long, gorgeous account of divers freeing an entangled humpback off the coast of Baja California.)
- crashes with ships (Such collisions have sparked calls for speed limits off Australia’s coast.)
- climate change, which could reduce the population of prey species (Learn more about Antarctica’s shrinking supply of krill.)
San Jose Mercury News: Humpback whale population grows, animals proposed to be removed from Endangered Species Act
NOAA: Send Your Government a Message! Comment on the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Proposed Rule: Endangered and Threatened Species: Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae); Identification of 14 Distinct Population Segments and Revision of Species-wide Listing
Nat Geo: Whales of the World illustration
Nat Geo: Coloring Book Animals