Humpback Whales Bounce Back Due to Global Conservation

June 6, 2008

Humpback whales in the Pacific Ocean have recovered swimmingly since the start of worldwide conservation programs in the 1960s and '70s.

That's the finding from a large-scale, collaborative research effort by more than 400 whale experts throughout the Pacific region.

The new research reveals that the overall population of humpbacks has rebounded to nearly 20,000 animals in the Pacific, up from less than 10 percent of that number five decades ago. The mammals are found in all the world's oceans.

Some isolated populations of whales, especially those in the western Pacific, have not rebounded at the same rate and still suffer low numbers.

But at least one study co-author doesn't want that to detract from the largely optimistic findings.

"While I agree that conservation concerns are not eliminated, this is fundamentally a good-news story," said Jay Barlow, a co-author from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California.

"If the world had more examples like this, I think that the people of the world would be more inclined to believe that conservation can make a difference."

The results appear in a report called Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance, and Status of Humpbacks (SPLASH) released in early May by NOAA and more than 50 international partners.

The National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News, also contributed funding to the project.

Feeding and Breeding

In 1966 humpback whales in the North Pacific hit a low of about 1,400 animals, according to the SPLASH report.

That same year the international whaling community instituted a ban on hunting humpbacks.

Continued on Next Page >>


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