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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whales are targeted by Icelandic whalers

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...
Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

To protect whales, we must stop ignoring the high seas

Almost two-thirds of the ocean, or 95% of the habitable space on Earth, are sloshing...
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...

Claiming Success Too Soon Could Result in Serious Failure

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has claimed the endangered species act (ESA) a success for humpback whales worldwide; I too agree that the ESA has provided humpbacks the protection they needed after nearly being decimated by commercial whaling, but the story isn’t all that simple. A delisting at this time would be premature and humpback whales are now facing a whole new set of threats that need to be evaluated. NOAA has recognized that it is extremely difficult to estimate and we do not have specific population numbers of humpback whales pre-commercial whaling. So how is it that we are able to claim such a “success” and potentially de-list the humpback whale if recovery goals were initially to increase populations to 60% of that population number?

Humpback whales may not have an overwhelming threat of commercial whaling as they did when first listed under the ESA, but these whales are now being pressured by threats such as entanglements in fishing gear, climate change, ocean acidification (which could eventually wipe out all of their prey), ocean noise pollution, and vessel strikes.

Starting in 2012, Whale and Dolphin Conservation developed a study to specifically look at risk associated with vessel strikes in the Gulf of Maine humpback whale population.  In this study we analyzed over 210,000 images of humpback whales that were collected between 2004 and 2013.  This study found that out of the total 623 humpback individuals that were photographed, 15% of the whales had injuries consistent with a vessel strike. Even more alarming for the future of this population, the study showed with fresh/recent injuries, calves were most likely (57%) to be impacted by vessel strikes. In addition to the 15% of humpback individuals we are photographing injured with vessel strike wounds, another study on Gulf of Maine humpback whales found that vessel strike mortality rates are also 15%.  With over 400 commercial fishing vessels and countless recreational boaters operating in the same waters these humpback whales are coming to feed, vessel strikes are causing injury, mortality, and affecting the recovery for Gulf of Maine humpback whales. 

Management measures have been implemented to reduce mortality and serious injury resulting from vessel strikes and entanglements for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale; these are potentially the same fishing gear and vessels that are affecting the recovery of the North Atlantic humpback whales. Scientists and law makers are now racing against the clock and we are all hoping it is not too late to save the North Atlantic right whale. Let’s not make the same mistake with humpback whales. 

The science and research is available showing the threats these humpback whales are facing and how they are affecting their population; as the ESA requires, determinations for listing should be based on the best scientific information available. Side with science, let your voice be heard and please sign our petition to keep North Atlantic humpback whales protected.

Please also submit your formal comments to the NMFS proposed rule.