The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Division proposed today to reclassify the humpback whale into 14 distinct population segments under the Endangered Species Act, providing a more tailored conservation approach for U.S. fisheries managers. Protection and restoration efforts over the past 40 years have led to an increase in numbers and growth rates for humpback whales in many areas.
Opponents to the reclassification say the move may be a political one since removing the status would make it less complicated for the U.S. Navy to conduct low frequency sonar tests across the globe. At the same time, commercial interests including dive, snorkel and whale watch business would benefit from the ruling because distance limitations would likely be eliminated.
The humpback whale is currently listed as endangered throughout its range. The proposed rule finds that ten of those 14 populations do not warrant ESA listing.
While commercial whaling severely depleted humpback whale numbers, population rebounds in many areas result in today’s larger numbers, with steady rates of population growth since the United States first listed the animal as endangered in 1970.
Also under the proposal, two of the other four populations would be listed as endangered and the remaining two would be listed as threatened. If the proposal is finalized, the humpback whale populations that would no longer be listed under the ESA would remain protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
NOAA Fisheries initiated an extensive review of the status of humpback whales in 2010, the results of which support separating the species into distinct population segments. The review also finds that many of the populations are not in danger of extinction (endangered) or likely to become so in the foreseeable future (threatened).
“The return of the iconic humpback whale is an ESA success story,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “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.”
Approximate locations of proposed humpback whale distinct population segments: 1. West Indies, 2. Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa, 3. Western North Pacific, 4. Hawaii, 5. Mexico, 6. Central America, 7. Brazil, 8. Gabon/Southwest Africa, 9. Southeast Africa/Madagascar, 10. West Australia, 11. East Australia, 12. Oceania, 13. Southeastern Pacific, 14. Arabian Sea. Click the global map to see the locations where humpbacks congregate – and where they are no longer “endangered,” or are still in danger.
The two populations proposed as threatened – the Central America and the Western North Pacific – at times enter U.S. waters. Two other populations that do not enter U.S. waters – in the Arabian Sea and off Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa – would remain listed as endangered.
NOAA Fisheries is opening up a 90-day public comment period for this proposed rule. During this time, NOAA Fisheries welcomes public comments and any new information to ensure that our final determination is based on the best available scientific and commercial information.
You may submit comments, information, or data on this document, identified by the code NOAA-NMFS-2015-0035, by any of the following methods:
Electronic Submissions : Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D= NOAA-NMFS-2015-0035, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
Mail: Submit written comments to Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
For general information on humpback whales, go to: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/whales/humpback-whale.html
To read the the proposal’s Federal Register notice, go to: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2015-09010.pdf