The Pros and Cons of Taking Humpback Whales off the Endangered Species List

Written by on April 24, 2015 in Policy & Ocean Law, Whales & Dolphins

Earlier this week, NOAA Fisheries proposed to reclassify humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) into 14 distinct population segments (DPSs), many of which would no longer be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Humpback whale tail.

Humpback whale tail. Photo credit: NOAA/AFSC.

Currently, all humpback whales are listed as endangered under the ESA but the new rule would remove the worldwide listing, and list only four populations instead – two as endangered and two as threatened. The Central America and Western North Pacific populations would be considered threatened (definition: they are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future). The Arabian Sea and Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa populations, which don’t enter U.S. waters, would remained listed as endangered (definition: they are in danger of extinction).

NOAA Fisheries has opened a 90-day public comment period during which any interested parties can submit comments, information, or data. It’s sure to be a hotly debated issue as many want to celebrate this ESA success story and others are already worrying about the future of this species.

This issue, sure to be hotly debated, will be the topic of our next newsletter. We’ll examine the main arguments for and against desliting humpback whales and take a look at where fisheries managers and conservation groups stand. Click here to subscribe!

Fast Facts:

  • There are an estimated 90,000 humpback whales worldwide and they can be found in all major ocean basins.
  • They can reach up to 60 feet (18 m) in length, weighing up to 40 tons.
  • Humpbacks have a lifespan of about 50 years.
  • The International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial humpback whaling in the 1960s.
  • Humpbacks were listed as endangered in 1970.
  • The IWC banned all commercial whaling in 1986.

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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