(WHALES/OCEAN CONSERVATION) Since commercial whaling was banned 50 years ago, humpback whale populations are witnessing a dramatic recovery. In response, the federal government has proposed removing most humpback whale populations off the Endangered Species List.

Humpback whales are known for their massive body length and size. The species can grow up to 45 feet long, weighing up to 50 tons. They also have a habit of breaching out of the water, an act which occurs more frequently with humpbacks than any other marine species.

Since the species’ population has increased by tens of thousands in the last several years, the whales have been seen by whale-watching tours and photographers more frequently off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.

Whales are considered sacred in some parts of Vietnam, so when one dies offshore or by beaching, it often becomes a religious experience. Photo Credit: The Guardian
Today, there are approximately 21,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Photo Credit: The Guardian

“We live in an age where all we hear is terrible news,” said Dan Costa, a biology professor and humpback whale expert at UC Santa Cruz.

“We hear about species going extinct. And the fact that something as iconic and amazing as a humpback whale can be taken off the endangered species list is a phenomenal thing.”

In the 19th and 20th centuries, humpback whales were hunted severely–first for whale oil, and then eventually fertilizer, poultry meal, and pet food, which caused their numbers to plummet.

By 1966, most humpback hunting ended worldwide due to an international agreement. In response, the U.S. officially banned all commercial whale hunting in 1971.

President Richard Nixon approved adding humpback whales to the Endangered Species Act in 1973, making them one of the first animal species to ever be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1966, there were only about 1,400 humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Today, that number has risen to approximately 21,000 humpbacks.

Although the species’ worldwide population is less clear, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration believes there are about 100,000 humpbacks in the wild.

Under last week’s proposal by NOAA Fisheries, humpback whales were separated into 14 population groups around the world. Of those 14 groups, 10 were proposed to be removed from the federal list of endangered species, two were proposed to be changed from endangered to threatened, and two were to be left as endangered.

However, whale hunting will still be prohibited under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, which also calls for the protections of sea otters and sea lions, among other species.

The humpback whale recovery follows comebacks of species such as the bald eagle, the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, and the gray whale, which was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994.

— Sabrina Clinkenbeard, exclusive to Global Animal