In Australia, the humpback whale population has rebounded to 90% of the pre-whaling numbers on the country’s west coast and 63% on the east coast.
Scientific research conducted by an international team of collaborators and published in the Marine Policy journal found that, since 2012, numbers are rising at about 9% per year off the west coast and 10% off the east coast – some of the highest recorded in the world.
Co-author on the paper and Murdoch University Professor Lars Bejder told Guardian Australia:
“Our point here was [that] we are really keen to bring out a successful story. It’s usually all doom and gloom in marine conservation. And it’s very depressing and demoralising for managers, politicians, NGOs and the general public, so what we wanted to do here was say there are rare occasions where it works, so don’t give up.”
Decades and decades of legal and illegal whaling since the 19th century severely diminished humpback numbers in seven major breeding populations in the southern hemisphere. For example, one group was reduced to 500 whales but is now at an estimated 14,552.
Because of these population increases, the risk of extinction is extremely unlikely and Australian humpback whales can be removed from their threatened status. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), though. Bejder says:
“If humpback whales were removed from the Australian threatened species list, the EPBC Act would still protect them from significant impacts as a matter of national environmental significance, as these whales are a migratory species. Beyond Australia, the International Whaling Committee manages the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which is essential for the humpback whales’ continued success.”
The Australian humpback whale comeback represents a conservation success. But continued success rests upon ongoing efforts to protect this species and keep its numbers on the rise.