Humpback whales to lose protected status

Only five humpback whale populations are still protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Humpback whales will have fewer legal protections due to successful conservation efforts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has taken the majority of the world’s humpback whale populations off its endangered species list.

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The news came on Tuesday 6 September after the NOAA announced that successful conservation efforts have helped the species recover to such an extent that certain humpback groups no longer warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“Today’s news is a true ecological success story,” said assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck in a statement.

Thanks to increasing numbers, nine of the 14 humpback whale population segments have been taken off the endangered species list.

Four groups remain classified as endangered, however, and one is now deemed to be threatened.

The whales remaining on the list due to low numbers and prolonged threats will continue to be protected under ESA.

NOAA is framing the news as a positive development, but some conservationists insist that humpback whales continue to require full protection due to increasing threats from ships strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear.

“The recovery of humpback whale populations across the globe has been extraordinary and is a true success story,” said Andy Rogan, of Ocean Alliance. “It is, however, important to remember that there are humpbacks (such as those in the Arabian gulf) that are still endangered and in need of urgent protection.

“Of the 11 large whale species, only three are considered to have populations healthy enough to be classified as a species of least concern by IUCN: the humpback whale, southern right whale and grey whale. And even though these species might not be considered to be endangered, their populations are still a fragment of pre-whaling levels. The rest are listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable with many either not recovering or recovering at a very slow rate.

“The recovery of humpbacks is great news but there is still a need to continue our utmost efforts to study and protect these animals.”

The humpback whales that have been taken off the list include populations in the West Indies, Hawaii, Brazil, southwest Africa, southeast Africa, west Australia, east Australia, Oceania, and Southeastern Pacific.

Groups in the Arabian Sea, northwest Africa, the western north Pacific and Central America remain on the list as endangered species.

The Mexican population, which feeds off the coasts of California, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, has been downgraded to ‘threatened’ status.

While it has removed most humpbacks from the ESA list, NOAA insists that all whales, including those no longer on the list, remain safe in US waters due to federal regulations.

In international waters the whales will continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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NOAA says it will also continue to monitor the populations that have been removed from the list for the next decade to ensure their continued success.