Delisting Humpbacks is a Step Back We Cannot Afford to Take
Killer whales have gotten a lot of attention lately, but they’re not the only ones in need of help. In Alaska, humpback whales could soon lose their federal protection status. While their endangered protection status could soon be lost, the threats to humpback whales are still very present. In July, the way that this tide turns could mean survival or extinction for the north Pacific humpback whales, and your voice counts now.
Endangered History of Humpback Whales
According to IWC, from the 1920s to 1950s, humpback whales were heavily exploited. Commercial whaling in the Southern Hemisphere and the whales’ “tropical breeding grounds” devastated the population.
Their federally protected status has helped their numbers. Some areas, including Australia, parts of Africa and South America, have seen 10 percent increases in whale population numbers every year. The north Atlantic and north Pacific have also seen favorable increases. However, it’s not all good news. Per the IWC, Oceania’s humpback whale numbers haven’t appeared to recover with only 2,000 whales left.
In Alaska‘s north Pacific region, IOL reports that the current population is around 22,000 strong. This is a huge improvement from the 1990s. During the 1990s, there were around 1,000 humpback whales in the region.
What Alaska‘s Saying Now
Alaska’s humpback whales have bounced back, but the progress that took decades could all change in 2014. As reported in IOL, a February 2014 petition asked federal fisheries managers to remove the endangered status of central north Pacific’s humpback whales, after more than 40 years of federal protection.
Petitioners argue that the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection is no longer necessary for two reasons: 1) the increasing population numbers, and 2) other regulations that already protect the cetaceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) doesn’t seem too opposed. As IOL reports, in an official statement, NOAA explains, “substantial scientific or commercial information [indicate] that the petitioned action may be warranted.”
NOAA also wants the public to weigh in. NOAA will listen to the people and to concerned environmental groups until July 28. After incorporating public, scientific and commercial opinions and conducting its own review, NOAA will decide the fate of Alaska’s humpback whales. There will be three possible outcomes: 1) no change, 2) the whales will be delisted, or 3) their protection status will be reduced to threatened.
Hawaii‘s Already Asked NOAA
As reported in the Huffington Post, Hawaiian Senator Solomon is in Alaska’s same boat. Hawaii put the status of the humpbacks on the map when the senator explained that society’s caring too much about the whales and forgetting the people — who should be the ‘priority.’
Solomon further explains, “‘Nooo, don’t delist them!’ Well, you know what? It’s costing you money, costing the taxpayer money — dollars that could be used in other areas” such as ‘the protection of other endangered species that our state may feel is a priority.’”
Threats Should Also Be Priorities
Maybe Senator Solomon wants a less expensive priority, who knows. A quick news search reveals that humpback whales are definitely not in the clear. As reported in VOCM, two humpback whales were rescued after getting caught in fishing gear. Three humpbacks have been released from Conception Bay, over the past weeks alone. And the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports how a 45-foot humpback whale mysteriously washed up on a beach near Florida’s Pajaro Dunes dead.
The truth is that humpbacks are still threatened. According to MERS, humpback whales are still getting tangled in fishing gear. The massive creatures sometimes come head-to-head with our vessels, or ships. The whales could also be running out of food because of our overfishing and habitat degradation, and we’re not sure if the whales can cope with these food shortages. As Earth Justice reports, even the Navy has harmed the welfare of the whales.
One of the biggest threats is also the illegal whaling industry. For instance, until recently, not even a ban on whaling had stopped Japan from killing whales and selling their meat. Yet, as MNN reports, even Japan could have a change in heart. Instead of eating humpbacks, whale-watching and ecotourism could replace the country’s taste for whale.
If Japan is taking steps forward, then why does Alaska (or Hawaii) want to go backwards. Humpback whales are still threatened, they are still dying and they still need our help. Please sign and share this petition to let the NOAA know that you don’t want to see humpback whales removed from the Endangered Species List.
Photo Credit: Gregory Smith