For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 845-6703

Humpback Whales on Rocky Road to Recovery

Endangered Species Success Story Will Be Thwarted if Ocean Acidification and Other Threats Not Addressed

SAN FRANCISCO - The National Marine
Fisheries Service announced today that it will review the endangered
status of humpback whales to determine if the classification is
accurate. Humpbacks were listed as endangered in 1970; the upcoming
review could result in removing the protections of the Endangered
Species Act for the species or downlisting the whale to “threatened”
status in some or all of its range. Recent surveys have found that
humpback whale populations are generally on an upward trend.
“Increasing numbers of humpback whales hold promise for recovery, but
this Endangered Species Act success story could be reversed if we don’t
address other threats to the species, primarily the looming disaster of
ocean acidification,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at
the Center for Biological Diversity.
Once decimated by commercial whaling, populations of humpback whales
have grown following protection of the species. Prior to commercial
whaling, scientists estimate, humpback-whale numbers exceeded 125,000;
whaling may have reduced the population by as much as 90 percent. In
the North Pacific, humpback whale numbers may be up from a low of 1,400
whales in 1966 to 20,000 now. Despite increasing numbers in the
Atlantic and Pacific, humpback whale populations are still vulnerable
and remain below their historic numbers. Direct threats to the species
include entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, offshore
oil development, and military sonar.

An overriding threat to humpback whales and the ocean ecosystem they
rely upon — and one that threatens to undermine all other conservation
efforts for the whale — is ocean acidification, the increasing acidity
of seawater resulting from the ocean’s uptake of carbon dioxide.
Humpback whales are filter feeders that draw large mouthfuls of
plankton, tiny crustaceans, and fish from the water. Ocean
acidification impairs the reproduction and growth, and can dissolve the
thin shells, of plankton whales eat. Already the world’s oceans have
become about 30 percent more acidic due to fossil-fuel use, and nearly
every marine animal studied has had an adverse response to
acidification. Absent reductions in carbon dioxide pollution, marine
ecosystems will undergo massive chemical changes that could imperil
many species, including the humpback whale.
“Humpback whales are not out of the dark yet, and they still face
myriad threats — from entanglement in fishing gear to deadly collisions
with boats, to the unraveling of the marine ecosystem as a result of
ocean acidification,” said Sakashita. “Without quick action to reduce
these threats, humpback whales still need the safety net of protections
afforded by the Endangered Species Act.”
The last status review for the humpback whale was completed in 1999.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting information and
accepting comments on the humpback-whale status review until October
13, 2009. 


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