Hooray for the humpback comeback!

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removes 9 humpback whale species from the endangered list
humpback whale Decades of efforts to protect the humpback whale have paid off. (© Lagarde Sebastien | Dreamstime.com)

If you're an animal lover, this news will be music to your ears. What kind of music? Something like this perhaps...

Anyway, on to the big news! After 46 years, 9 of 14 humpback whale species are being taken off of the endangered species list. This truly is a remarkable thing when you consider how close many of these species came to being lost forever.

Whaling took them to the brink

Hunting whales on the open seas, or whaling, was a common practice for hundreds of years. One of the most famous novels of all time, Herman Melville's Moby Dick, is even about the battle between a whaling sea captain and a vengeful white sperm whale. Whales were hunted in particular for their meat, oil, and blubber. For a time, it was very common to use soap made from whale oil. The oil was also used as fuel in the lamps that people used in their homes before electricity was widespread.

By the 20th century, though, whaling grew to dangerous levels. More and bigger ships plus improved hunting methods meant that by the 1930s over 50,000 whales were killed every year. Even at this time, experts knew that nowhere near enough whale calves were being born to replace those being hunted. In 1946, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was formed. They tried to lower the number of whales hunted to keep a balance. Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well.

A ban on all whaling

Humpbacks are known for their "singing" as well as their habit of leaping clear out of the water. This is called breaching. (Getty Embed)

By 1970, the U.S. government officially recognized humpback whales as an endangered species. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) worked harder than ever around the world to protect humpbacks and remove them from the list of whales that could be hunted. Things got so bad, that in 1982, the International Convention banned all whaling starting in late 1985—if they didn't, the fear was that many species (and not just humpbacks) would become extinct. The ban, called a moratorium, is still in effect today (though a few countries continue to practice whaling despite the ban).

Though it has been a long road back, the ban worked. Humpback whales are large animals that usually only have a single calf every two years or so. In other words, it takes a long time for their population to recover, even under the best conditions. But recover they have. With this announcement, humpback whales are at their highest numbers in decades. Though 4 species remain endangered, a fifth species (the whales that live off the western coast of Mexico) have been upgraded to threatened. Because the ban of whaling still exists, experts are hopeful that one day all 14 species will be in strong health and humpbacks can be removed from the endangered list completely.

Makes us feel like singing! But maybe we'll just leave that to the whales...

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