It’s no secret that whaling is frowned upon both by conservationists and the law, but there was once a time in the not-so-distant past when commercial whaling activities ran rampant, and it dangerously drove the South Atlantic humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) population to the brink of extinction.
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Fortunately, new research conducted by scientists at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences shows that humpback whale protections have helped numbers in this particular population rebound. The findings were published earlier this month in the journal Royal Society Open Science and spell out good news for the species in general.
Commercial whaling was prominent in the early 1900’s, but it wasn’t until the turn of the century that environmentalists had imposed protections to outlaw the practice. Some 25,000 humpback whales were captured in a 12-year period before the establishment of these protections, and it’s estimated that there were only 450 humpback whales remaining in the South Atlantic population at the time.
It’s been an uphill battle to restore the South Atlantic humpback whale population to pre-whaling numbers ever since, but those efforts don’t appear to have been wasted. The researchers found that the population has grown to at least 25,000 individuals, which is at least as many as there were before the commercial whaling practices had taken their toll.
“We were surprised to learn that the population was recovering more quickly than past studies had suggested,” said John Best, a co-author of the paper.
Studies conducted more than a decade ago concluded that the South Atlantic humpback whale population had only grown by about 30 percent, but new techniques including both air and boat surveys combined with complex computer modeling have purportedly offered better insight, instead suggesting that the population has grown much larger than initially thought.
“Long-term monitoring of populations is needed to understand how environmental changes affect animal populations,” explained Alex Zerbini, the lead author of the paper. “Wildlife populations can recover from exploitation if proper management is applied.”
Things definitely seem to be looking up for South Atlantic humpback whales, and assuming similar wildlife management is being used across the globe, it’s very possible that worldwide humpback whale populations could be growing at similar rates. This is very much speculation, and we’ll have to wait for researchers to collect cold, hard data before we can know for certain.