Because of all the current threats to our oceans, marine scientists spend a lot of time delivering bad news: about chemical pollution, marine debris, species declining, fisheries collapsing, and habitats being damaged. It can be discouraging for us and for people who care about our oceans. We all end up wondering whether we can really change the trajectory of environmental decline. So it's always nice to get (and share) some good news!
A new study out of Australia reports that Humpback Whales there are recovering so well that they will soon no longer need to be on the threatened species list under Australia's EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act. Humpback populations were found to be increasing at 9% a year for the population on the West Coast, and 10% a year on the East as of 2012--the fastest documented recovery rate for humpbacks worldwide. (Some context: 11.8% per year is the estimated maximum recovery rate possible for a humpback population based on their biological characteristics; the most optimistic NOAA estimates for the US Atlantic population suggest it is recovering at about 6.5% per year).
Even better, Australian populations are increasingly close to returning to pre-whaling levels (currently at 90% of historic levels on the West Coast and 63% on the East Coast). This is very encouraging news, which suggests international cooperation and a national commitment to conservation can help decimated marine species recover.
If you'd like to learn more about humpbacks, NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory has some great information here: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/education/cetaceans/humpback.php.
The scientific paper is available here, behind a paywall:
Michelle Bejder, David W. Johnston, Joshua Smith, Ari Friedlaender, Lars Bejder. Embracing conservation success of recovering humpback whale populations: Evaluating the case for downlisting their conservation status in Australia. Marine Policy, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2015.05.007
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