Humpback Whales: Removal from the Endangered Species List
In 1986, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home brought the plight of the humpback whales to the big screen. However, it was actually in 1970 when these whales were listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Conversation Act. Just recently in April, 2015, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed to revise the endangered listing for humpback whales. Conservation efforts have worked to bring back the population of this species, especially in the Southern Hemisphere and Northern Pacific regions.
A Brief History of Whaling and Regulations
From the 1920s through the 1950s, humpback whales were heavily hunted and exploited. In 1946, commercial whaling was regulated by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. It took another 20 years for them to prohibit commercial hunting of humpbacks. By this time, efforts were being made to protect whales against the threats they face. Although hunting decimated the population, humpbacks still faced entanglement in fishing gear not intended to catch them, ship strikes or whale watching harassment, and negative affects to their habitat.
Many agencies have worked to increase the population of humpback whales. The Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan helps reduce the number of whales caught in gillnet or other fishing gear. In the Pacific Region, work has been done to mitigate the number of ship strikes and increase the ability to respond to whales in distress. Education has been provided to whale watch boats for safe operating procedures when boating. More studies have been done by the International Whaling Commission and NOAA, as well as other interested parties, to understand the migratory patterns and culture of whales to help them increase in population.
Are Humpback Whales Still Endangered?
Although the whale population is increasing, it’s not as simple as saying “there’s this many whales, so they aren’t endangered.” The number has to be weighed against the threats and reproduction abilities to maintain their population. One major proposal of the NOAA splits the humpback population into 14 different segments. Ten of these are up from removal on the endangered list. There are still populations in the Arabian Sea and off the north-west African coast that are not reproducing fast enough to maintain their numbers.
In Hawai’i, the population is recovering. This is one of the segments of the humpback whale that is growing. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the stock has increased from 1,600 in the mid-1960s to about 20,000 in today’s environment. It says a lot about the efforts of all types of agencies to monitor and study these beautiful creatures which can grow to 25- 30 tonnes and reach 12 – 14 meters in length when full grown. Although the humpback is still listed as “Federally Endangered” the proposal has been made to remove it from the list.
Whaling tours in Hawaii are very popular, especially during migration seasons where whales are trying to find the warmest waters. Every legitimate charter business does all it can to prevent injury to whales while letting visitors watch them in their natural habitat. Come to Hawai’i and enjoy a whale watching tour.