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U.S. Moves To Strip Humpback Whales Of Crucial Protections

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Humpback whales are no longer teetering on the edge of extinction. But does that mean they're recovered enough to be stripped of protections?

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service thinks so - on Monday, it proposed de-listing 10 of the 14 populations of humpbacks from the Endangered Species Act. First listed in 1970, the whales have rebounded lately - officials say so much so that they no longer require the listing.

"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," Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries, said in a statement.

NOAA

Before the international ban on commercial whaling was put in place in 1986, humpbacks were hunted relentlessly, but they've recovered, some populations at a rate of 11 percent per year, thanks to conservation efforts. If de-listed, the whales would still be off-limits to hunters under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the ban on whaling. But the de-listing could bring some populations closer to development or fishing activities. And as new threats like climate change and ocean acidification enter the equation, the 60-foot giants need protection more now than ever.

"The fact that we can spot humpback whales breaching and playing in the ocean after they were nearly extinct shows the tremendous power of the Endangered Species Act," Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a release. "Those safeguards should stay in place for these extraordinary animals."

The Fisheries Service will be accepting comments on the proposal for 90 days, as well as holding public hearings in Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Virginia.