After being driven to near-extinction by the middle of the last century from rampant commercial whaling, protections under the Endangered Species Act have helped humpback whales in the North Pacific make a remarkable recovery -- so much so that now wildlife officials are considering proposals to downgrade or delist them.
In a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), federal authorities found that the North Pacific humpbacks' numbers have increased more than 2,000 percent, from a low of around 1,000 in 1966, to an estimated 21,800 individuals today -- sufficient initial evidence, they've concluded, to examine whether their current level of protections should be reduced.
Both the state of Alaska and the Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance for Conservation and Tradition have filed petitions to NOAA requesting delisting for central North Pacific humpbacks given their population increase, though some conservation groups fear that removing protections would be premature.
Although a ban on whaling has made it possible for the whales' to recover, they are not without other dangers -- like ship strikes, ocean pollution, and entanglement in fishing equipment.
"I think that the increase in the number of humpback whales that we've seen shows that the Endangered Species Act is working," Rebecca Noblin, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press. "But NOAA should be cautious in its review because the whales do continue to face threats."
Over the next year, NOAA will examine North Pacific humpback populations to determine whether any changes to the species' status is warranted.
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