BY ANNELIESE MOLL
For the UAS Whalesong
In 1970, humpback whales were listed as endangered due to prior heavy commercial whaling efforts. On September 6, 2016 they were taken off that list. This is an exciting move also because this is the first time since 1994 (when gray whales were removed) that a whale species has been taken off of the endangered species list.
This move is partially because, previously, humpback whales were considered one population. Now it has been decided that the one population should more accurately be viewed as 14 populations. This splitting of the population has to do with a potentially new way to manage them. Splitting the populations will allow officials to consider how each separate population should be managed.
Out of the 14 populations, 9, it has been determined, no longer need the protection afforded to them under the Endangered Species Act. The other 5 populations either are remaining on the list or have been moved down to threatened status. The move from endangered to threatened has been made for some populations for now because of their numbers, which are still low and due to some threats to the population that still exist. On that note, not all is necessarily well in regards to threats facing all populations. Ship strikes and entanglement problems with fishing gear continue to take their toll. And, while some of the whales have been taken off the Endangered Species Act, they are all still covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act which was enacted in 1972 as well as regulations set in place by the International Whaling Commission.
In related news, on Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) filed a couple of regulations regarding whales in Hawaiian and Alaskan waters. These regulations would require vessels to keep at least 100 yards away, which would guarantee that vessels continue to follow guide lines set in place by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Just because portions of the whales have been taken off of the endangered species list does not mean that we can stop the conservation and monitoring efforts that have gotten them this far.