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Humpback Comeback: Whale Populations Are Recovering From Near-Extinction

It looks like South Atlantic humpback whales are having a comeback!

Humpback whales were almost hunted to extinction, but now according to a new recount, the population that swims between South America and Antarctica is reproducing more.


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“It is good news,” says María Vázquez, a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City who was not involved in the assessment. Vázquez has been studying a threatened humpback population off the west coast of Mexico and also observed its progress.

“We see it year after year, there are more animals, younger, more offspring.”


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For the study, researchers referred to air- and ship-based observations, as well as new historical and genetic data that suggest the population was more resilient and productive than previously thought.

“In the previous assessment, we had a less accurate estimate of population size, and we only had data on modern whaling,” says Alex Zerbini, a marine biologist at the NOAA’s Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle.


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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, of 14 known populations of humpback whales, ten have shown signs of recovery. The other four are not recovering and are considered endangered.

The biggest threat to the humpback whale population had been whale hunting, which began around 1830. Hunting caused the humpback population to drop to a low of 440 by 1958. After commercial whaling was banned in 1986, the population began to recover.

Although Zerbini says he hopes the new counting method will reveal similar success stories with the other humpback whale populations, he is concerned about a newer threat: climate change.

“Climate change affects the entire ecosystem, so it will affect whales,” Zerbini explained. “It also will affect the whales’ prey and the whales’ competitors.”

So, let’s get serious about climate change! These whales (and basically the whole planet) are counting on us!

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