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Humpback Whales No Longer Endangered

Apr 21, 2015 11:39 AM EDT
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Killer whale joins surfers during competition in Norway

Humpback whales can now breathe a heavy sigh of relief because as of Monday, most of these iconic mammals are no longer endangered, federal officials announced.

That is, it has been proposed that 10 out of the 14 existing whale populations be removed from the endangered species list, thanks to protection and restoration efforts over the last 40 years, which have led to an increase in numbers and growth rates for humpback whales in many areas.

"To be able to bring a species to a point where their population is doing well and they no longer meet those requirements to be on the Endangered Species Act [ESA], I think that is a really important success for us as a nation," Donna Weiting, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Protected Resources said during a news conference, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Meanwhile, two populations would remain listed as threatened, and two others would still be listed as endangered.

The humpback whale was first listed as endangered in 1970 when it became clear that commercial whaling was severely depleting their numbers. Since then, the population of these whales increased to nearly 80,000, compared to nearly 5,000 during the peak of humpback whaling in the 1960s. Some populations are growing at a rate of up to 11 percent annually since the listing, which requires federal approval for federally funded or authorized activities that could harm whales or their habitat.

However, there are a few places in the world that still allow hunting of humpback whales, according to the International Whaling Commission, which has banned commercial whaling since 1966. This includes Norway, Iceland, and Japan - which has been under heavy fire from conservationists and wildlife advocates everywhere recently for their controversial whale hunts - supposedly which are in the name of "scientific research."

Humpback whales can be found around the world, and federal officials say restoration and protection efforts have expanded their numbers in numerous places. Among those suggested for removal from the ESA listing is the humpback whale population that relocates every year from Hawaii to Alaska.

Even if the species is removed from the endangered list, it would still remain protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

"As we learn more about the species - and realize the populations are largely independent of each other - managing them separately allows us to focus protection on the animals that need it the most," Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries, said in a statement.

The NOAA hasn't taken any whale species off the ESA list since the agency delisted the gray whale in 1994. This latest proposal is open for a 90-day public comment period. After which, the process of delisting the humpback whale from the ESA list will take about 12 months.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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