Friday, March 21, 2014

Alaska requests Endangered Species Act delisting for humpback whales

The state of Alaska has requested delisting (removing) humpback whales from the Endangered Species Act, according to a story from the Alaska Dispatch.

Humpback whales, once nearly wiped out in the North Pacific by commercial hunters, are now plentiful enigh in the Alaska-to-Hawaii migration corridor that they should be removed from the Endangered Species Act list, says the state of Alaska in a petition to federal officials.

he North Pacific humpback population was down to about 1,000 in 1966, the year that commercial whaling stopped. Now the population is 21,800, even more than the estimated 15,000 that swam the North Pacific about a century ago, before the peak of the commercial hunt, Fish and Game officials said.

Commercial whaling was the big threat to humpback whales, and now the population has reaped the benefits from the hunt's end, said Doug Vincent-Lang, director of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation.

“Since whaling was restricted or regulated, it has rebounded well,” he said.

If old threats from commercial whaling are gone, some new threats to humpbacks have emerged and should be considered by NOAA in its delisting deliberations, one environmental group has argued.

The Center for Biological Diversity, in comments sent to NOAA in October, said new threats have emerged in the form of ocean acidification -- which could affect the krill and other crustaceans that make up the whales’ diet -- and climate change. There are also new threats from ambient noise in the ocean, which can drown out the calls the whales use to communicate with each other, as well as continuing problems of pollution, ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, the center said.
A wintering right whale and its calf off Florida.  Photo:  NOAA via

The six species of whale which occur off New Jerssy's coast are listed on both the state and federal endangered species lists.

Sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus
Fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus
Sei whale, Balaenoptera physalusborealis
Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
North Atlantic northern right whale (or Black right whale) Eubalaena glacialis

They are managed by the International Whaling Commission. In 1966, the International Whaling Commission prohibited commercial whaling of humpbacks due to the decline of the species. It was listed by the federal government as endangered in 1970 and, as a result of that federal status, was automatically added to the New Jersey endangered species list following enactment of the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act in 1973. Humpbacks are provided with additional protection with the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.


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