Tag Archives: humpback whale

Humpback Whales Are Making a Huge Comeback in Australia

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.”

Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0

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.

Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0

Featured image by texaus1 / CC BY 2.0

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What Was Behind the Mysterious Whale Deaths on the Pacific Coast in 2015?

Since May, more than 30 whales have been found dead on the pacific coast without explanation.

11 fin whales, 14 humpbacks, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans were found dead in the western gulf of Alaska. Six more whales were found dead off the coast of British Columbia including four humpbacks, one sperm and one fin whale.

The unknown cause behind the deaths prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare it an “Unusual Mortality Event” last month. But after investigation, scientists think a widespread algae bloom located off the coast could be suspect in the deaths. NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told the Guardian:

“Our leading theory at this point is that the harmful algal bloom has contributed to the deaths. But we have no conclusive evidence. The bottom line is we don’t know what’s causing these deaths.”

Scientists have already been monitoring a large stretch of warm water that started out off the coast of Alaska two years ago and has grown to almost 500 miles across. “The Blob,” as it has been named, is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean and has caused a record algae bloom spanning the West Coast from Alaska to California.

Photo by NOAA
Photo by NOAA

However, the fast rate of decomposition makes it nearly impossible to sample the dead whales, meaning there may never be a definitive conclusion. Scientists do know of one species of phytoplankton that produces a neurotoxin, which enters the food chain in smaller fish and birds, can cause disorientation and fatal seizures in severe cases.

Although the death count is almost three times the historic average annual mortality rate, whale populations are not overly affected. Marine mammal specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant marine advisory program and on-site coordinator of the UME investigation Bree Witteveen tells Yahoo Canada News:

“From a population perspective, the level of deaths that we’ve seen are not likely to have much of an impact. It’s more of a warning sign.”

Featured image by Sarah Nichols / CC BY-SA 2.0