Report: Australia’s humpback whales are thriving

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.
A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

FRISCO — While many Australian animal species are being pushed toward extinction, humpback whales off both the country’s east and west coasts are making a strong comeback from the whaling era.

Recent research suggests humpback populations are growing at about 10 percent annually, and that populations have recovered to between 60 and 90 percent of pre-whaling numbers, according to a new study published in the journal Marine Policy.

The data suggest that humpback whales may no longer need protection under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

“Our conclusions serve as an example of optimism and hope in the conservation of marine fauna protection, as the relentless communication of marine conservation problems does not always encourage politicians, policy makers, and the public to solve them,” said Professor Lars Bejder, with the Murdoch University Australia School of Veterinary and Life Sciences. “We highlight a success story, which provides hope and optimism that ongoing conservation actions can prevail.”

Downlisting or delisting humpback whales could free up resources for other, more imperiled species, the researchers said, adding that the whales would still be protected under other environmental laws.

“Future challenges in Australia will be to protect a marine environment that contains growing humpback whale populations and to develop alternative approaches to ecological sustainability,” said Dr. David Johnston, of Duke University, a co-author of the study. “There will be increases in interactions with maritime users, including acoustic disturbance from noise, collisions with vessels, entanglements in fishing gear, habitat destruction from coastal development and cumulative interactions with the whale-watch industry,” Johnston said. “Therefore, adaptive management actions and new approaches to gain public support will be vital to maintain the growth and recovery of Australian humpback whales and prevent future population declines.”

Bejder said, “The recovery of the iconic humpback whales of Australia delivers both hope and optimism, as well as an opportunity to celebrate success at two levels: The successful implementation of contentious international management actions to protect marine species; and the wise and significant investment in conservation science.”

 

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