East Hawaii News

NOAA Proposes Reclassification of Humpback Whales

April 20, 2015, 12:33 PM HST
* Updated April 20, 12:36 PM
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A reported increase of whale population over the past 40 years has led to an increase in numbers and growth rate, according to National Ocean Atmospheric officials. The data has brought the NOAA to propose the reclassification of whales into 14 distinct population segments under the Endangered Species Act. The NOAA announcement came Monday morning.

NOAA officials say the proposal will provide better opportunites to bring a more tailored conservation approach for United States fisheries managers.

In all, 14 populations of humpback whales are listed as endangered. NOAA’s proposed rule finds that out of the 14 populations, ten of them do not belong in the ESA listing.

Commercial whaling weakened the humpback whale population, which led to the species to be listed as endangered in 1970. NOAA says that data shows that the populations have grown in strides since then. Today, the humpback whale population as a whole is actually up.

Approximate locations of proposed humpback whale distinct population segments: 1. West Indies, 2. Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa, 3. Western North Pacific, 4. Hawaii, 5. Mexico, 6. Central America, 7. Brazil, 8. Gabon/Southwest Africa, 9. Southeast Africa/Madagascar, 10. West Australia, 11. East Australia, 12. Oceania, 13. Southeastern Pacific, 14. Arabian Sea. NOAA image.

Approximate locations of proposed humpback whale distinct population segments: 1. West Indies, 2. Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa, 3. Western North Pacific, 4. Hawaii, 5. Mexico, 6. Central America, 7. Brazil, 8. Gabon/Southwest Africa, 9. Southeast Africa/Madagascar, 10. West Australia, 11. East Australia, 12. Oceania, 13. Southeastern Pacific, 14. Arabian Sea. NOAA image.

Of the remaining four populations of humpback whales, two have been proposed to be listed as threatened while the other two are proposed to be listed as endangered. The ten populations taken off the ESA are still considered protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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In 2010, NOAA Fisheries conducted an extensive review of the status of humpback whales. In the results of the review, officials found that the results supported separating the species into distinct population segments. In the review, data pointed out that many of the populations are not in danger of extinction, which would have classified them as endangered, nor are they likely to face the danger of extinction in the foreseeable future, which would have classified them as threatened.

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“The return of the iconic humpback whale is an ESA success story,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “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.”

Both the Central America and the Western North Pacific populations are those that have been proposed as threatened. These two populations enter U.S. waters occasionally. The populations in the Arabian Sea and off Cape Verde Islands in the Northwest Africa region are the proposed groups to remain listed as endangered.

Public comment on the proposed rule will be opened for 90 days by NOAA Fisheries. During the period, NOAA Fisheries welcomes public comment as well as new information that would ensure the final determination is based on the best scientific and commercial information.

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Individuals who wish to submit comments, information, or data on this document, identified by the code NOAA-NMFS-2015-0035, can send them either electronically or by mail.

Electronic Submissions : Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to the Regulations website, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Mail: Submit written comments to Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

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