Humpback whale population comes back from the brink

Humpback whale
iStock/NetaDegany

Humpback whales have rebounded from the brink of extinction, after the whaling industry, as their population is on the rise in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Intense whaling events in the 20th century saw the western South Atlantic almost stripped of humpback whales, with the population dropping bellow 450. It has been estimated that 25,000 whales were caught over a 12-year period in the early 1900s.

In the early 1960s, protective measures were put in place after scientists notices that the global humpback whale population was rapidly declining.

The new study, co-authored by Grant Adams, John Best and André Punt from the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, demonstrated that the western South Atlantic humpback population has grown to 25,000.

“We were surprised to learn that the population was recovering more quickly than past studies had suggested,” said Best, a UW doctoral student.

“Accounting for pre-modern whaling and struck-and-lost rates where whales were shot or harpooned but escaped and later died, made us realise the population was more productive than we previously believed,” said Adams, a UW doctoral student who helped construct the new model.

“We believe that transparency in science is important,” said Adams. “The software we wrote for this project is available to the public and anyone can reproduce our findings.”

The study also assess how the revival of South Atlantic humpbacks may have effected every member of the ecosystem. Competing with other predators, like penguins and seals, humpback whales may be responsible for drops in the population of krill. However, it is more likely that climate warming is the reason behind the fall of the krill.

Lead author Alex Zerbini of the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Laboratory stated: “Wildlife populations can recover from exploitation if proper management is applied…Long-term monitoring of populations is needed to understand how environmental changes affect animal populations.”

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