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ERRONEOUS Decision to Take Humpback Whales off the Endangered List

Humpback Distinct Population Segement Map
Humpback Distinct Population Segements Map: NMFA

News media are reporting that the United States Federal authorities (National Marine Fisheries Service) have taken most humpback whales off the endangered species list, saying their numbers have recovered through international efforts to protect the giant mammals. (Federal register) (NOAA Fisheries)

The Japan Times reports, the NMFS said it had evidence to indicate there were 14 distinct populations of humpback whales around the world. It then said nine of these populations have recovered to the point where they no longer need Endangered Species Act Protections. These include whales that winter in Hawaii, the West Indies and Australia.

To set the record straight Australian Humpback populations have NOT recovered to any noticeable degree.
It appeares the Japan Times fabricated that mistruth. (Japan Times Sept 20, 2016) [Retracted]
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The US decision to delist Humpback whales is based on a new erroneous theory that there are 14 Humpback Whale populations in the worlds oceans and although that may be true today, historically, there were only TWO populations i.e. Southern & Northern Hemisphere. By creating 14 individual Humpback populations the US NMFA has "juggled the books" and manufactured this misguided plan based upon ficticious Humpback Whale Distinct Population Segements (DPS) that it devised in 1996. Distinct Population Segement) (Federal Register)

Humpback whales are a highly migratory species and do not cross the equator as do all Baleen whales. Humpback whales seasonally migrate from polar feeding grounds to warm temperate to tropical breeding grounds (See Migration map below). It is likely that more than 100,000 humpbacks were killed by whalers thoughout the modern whaling era so prior to modern whaling there were many more whales in the ocean than today. How many?

World's Oceans once Teemed with Whales

A Whalemeat DNA study by marine biologists at Stanford University in California, found that the genetic diversity of whales is so large that it can only mean that past population sizes were much bigger than anyone had estimated. The International Whaling Commission estimates that past population sizes of humpback whales numbered no more than 115,000 before whaling (above: more than 100,000 humpbacks were killed by whalers). The analysis of humpback whale DNA, however, led to estimate that the past population size of breeding females alone must have been between 125,000 and 250,000 individuals and since mature breeding females make up about one sixth to one eighth of a whale population, these numbers suggest a global humpback whale population size [in the past] of about 750,000 to 2 million animals. (Source: Steve Connor, BBC Science)

To give you an idea of how inaccurate or misinformed the US NMFS is, regarding Humpback whale populations, the Southern Hemisphere Australian Humpback whale population is:

  • Western Australian Polulation: 12,800 (95% CI:   7,500 - 44,600)
  • Eastern Australian population: 14,522 (95% CI: 12,777 - 16,504) Source: AMMC, Australian Antarctic Division

Knowing that there were 750,000 to 2,000,000 Humpbacks in the world pre whaling and allowing 50% in each hemisphere i.e. 375,000 to 1,000,000 each side of the equator. (We know there were more in the Southern Hemisphere) then we currently have:

Western Australian Polulation: 7,500/375,000*100 to 44,600/1,000,000*100 2.00% to 4.48% of historical levels.
Eastern Australian population: 12,777/375,000*100 to 16,504/1,000,000*100 3.41% to 1.65% of historical levels.

If you believe there are 7 DPS's in the Southern Hemisphere as does the NMFS, then with the other five (estimating 4% each) we have:

(20% + 2.00% + 3.41%) = 25.41% to (20% + 4.46% + 1.65%) = 26.11%

Where are the other 63.71% to 73.89% of Southern Hemisphere Humpback whales?

Migration Map
Humpback Distribution & Migration Map


Long-term population size of the North Atlantic humpback whale within the context of worldwide population structure
Authors: S. Elizabeth Alter, Eric Rynes, and Stephen R. Palumbi.

DNA evidence for historic population size and past ecosystem impacts of gray whales
Authors: Kristen Ruegg, Howard C. Rosenbaum, Eric C. Anderson, Marcia Engel, Anna Rothschild, C. Scott Baker, Stephen R. Palumbi.

Pre-Whaling Genetic Diversity and Population Ecology in Eastern Pacific Gray Whales: Insights from Ancient DNA and Stable Isotopes
Authors: S. Elizabeth Alter , Seth D. Newsome, Stephen R. Palumbi.

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