NOAA Wants Most Humpback Whales Off Endangered Species List

The humpback whale population has rebounded thanks to international conservation efforts, but now the debate begins on if certain protections should be rescinded.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA) wants to reclassify the giant mammals into 14 groups and take 10 of those populations off of the endangered list. Some say that might be premature since the whales face new dangers from climate change and ocean acidification.

According to the AP, Donna Weiting, director for NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, says many of the groups of whales no longer meet the qualifications for either the endangered species list or even threatened species list.

“Ten of these populations are no longer in danger of extinction, which is our criteria for an endangered listing, nor are they likely to become so in the foreseeable future, our criteria for a threatened status.”

The NOAA estimates the current humpback whale population is around 90,000 globally. It’s impossible to say how much of an increase that is since no data existed before 1970 when the humpback was placed on the endangered list. Nevertheless, the agency says their numbers were “severely depleted” at the time.

If the agency does take humpback whales off the list, it wouldn’t mean open hunting season. The animals would still be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Likewise, the U.S. is a member of the International Whaling Commission, which has prohibited commercial whale fishing since 1966.

Under the agency’s new proposal, 10 whale groups would no longer be on the endangered or threatened species list. SF Gate reports that two groups, one usually found in Central America and one in the Western North Pacific, would be still listed as “threatened.” Those populations occasionally migrate through U.S. waters.

Two other populations, one in the Arabian Sea and another off the coast of northwest Africa, would remain on the endangered list.

If the humpback whale did make it off the endangered list, it would be the first since 1994 when the government took eastern North Pacific grey whales off.

Some people, like the director of Alaska’s Center for Biological Diversity, Rebecca Noblin, believe the optimism might be a little premature. The humpback whales will still have to adjust to climate change and ocean acidification.

Noblin said to the AP, “It would really be beneficial to continue to have the protections of the Endangered Species Act as the oceans change.”

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, ocean acidification was recently implicated in the worst extinction event in Earth’s geological history, and in modern times, has hurt shark populations. Some conservationists worry that if the trend continues, small fish populations, like the krill eaten by humpback whales, will no longer be able to thrive in the ocean.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]