Endangered Species Act Puts Humpback Whales on Road to Recovery, But Hurdles Remain

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Endangered Species Act Puts Humpback Whales on Road to Recovery, But Hurdles Remain

Feds Remove Protection From Several Populations of Humpbacks Despite Ongoing Threats

WASHINGTON - The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced a decision to change the listing status of humpback whales under the Endangered Species Act. Humpback whales were previously protected as endangered globally, but today’s finding splits the species into 14 populations — and while it continues protections for some populations, it proposes to remove endangered species protections for others, namely the Hawaii population, the Mexico population that feeds off the West Coast of the United States, and the West Indies population that feeds off the U.S. East Coast.

“It’s heartening to see that some humpback whales are recovering, but it’s premature to remove protections when so many threats, like climate change and ocean noise, are increasing,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Since commercial whaling ended, humpbacks have enjoyed protection, but they’re still drowning in fishing gear and getting hit by ships.”

The notice acknowledges that some threats still remain for humpback whales, but it cites population increases to justify delisting. The whales’ recovery plan set the goal of reaching 60 percent of the historical carrying capacity for the North Atlantic and North Pacific populations, but it is not possible to assess whether this criterion has been met because of information gaps.

“The fact that we can spot humpback whales breaching and playing in the ocean after they were nearly extinct shows the tremendous power of the Endangered Species Act.  Those safeguards should stay in place for these extraordinary animals,” said Sakashita.

In summary, the proposal continues to list the Arabian Sea and Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa populations as endangered and the Western North Pacific and Central American populations (that feed off California, Oregon and Washington) as threatened. It delists the West Indies, Hawaii, Mexico (that feed off California, Oregon and Alaska), Brazil, Gabon/Southwest Africa, Southeast Africa/Madagascar, West Australia, East Australia, Oceania and Southeastern Pacific humpback populations.

The notice indicates that there are more than 2,000 humpback whales each in the West Indies, Hawaii and Mexico groups and the populations are increasing moderately. There are thought to be about 500 Central America humpbacks left, and that population’s trends are unknown.

Today’s action comes in response to petitions by the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition to delist the North Pacific humpback whale and the state of Alaska to remove the Central North Pacific (Hawaii) stock of humpback for the list of endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Fisheries Service will be accepting comments on the proposal for 90 days and holding public hearings in Hawaii, Alaska, Massachusetts and Virginia.

Learn more about the Center's Oceans program<http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/oceans/>.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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