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Humpback Whale Subpopulation’s Recovery Prompts State Petition for Endangered Species Act Delisting
- ADF&G Press Release

Cora Campbell, Commissioner
P.O. Box 115526
Juneau, Alaska 99811
Phone: (907) 465-6166 - Fax: (907) 465-2332


Press Release: February 26, 2014

Contact: Doug Vincent-Lang, Director, Division of Wildlife Conservation, Anchorage, (907) 267-2339

Humpback Whale Subpopulation’s Recovery Prompts State Petition for Endangered Species Act Delisting

Juneau - The subpopulation of humpback whales that migrates seasonally between Alaska and Hawaii has recovered, is no longer threatened with extinction, and should be removed from the list of species covered by the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), the State of Alaska declared today in a petition submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”).

This subpopulation of whales, known as the Central North Pacific subpopulation, feeds in Alaska waters in the summer and breeds in Hawaii waters in the winter. NMFS recognizes this subpopulation as the largest of three breeding subpopulations in the North Pacific.

The petition submitted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls for NMFS to designate the Central North Pacific subpopulation of humpback whales as a Distinct Population Segment (“DPS”) under the ESA and to delist the newly established DPS because it has met recovery goals and has increased to the point that protection under the ESA is no longer required. After delisting, the population will still be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other state and federal laws, but the regulatory burdens of the ESA will be lifted.

The humpback whale occurs in all major ocean basins and was listed in 1970 as endangered under an early version of the ESA. These whales were severely depleted by commercial whaling in the 1800s and 1900s before the International Whaling Commission halted harvest of the species in 1966. Prior to 1905, the humpback whale population in the North Pacific was estimated to contain 15,000 animals. When harvest was stopped, as few as 1,000 humpback whales remained. Since then, the population has rebounded exponentially. Current estimates place the total North Pacific population at 21,800 animals.

“The recovery of humpback whales in the North Pacific is an ESA success story,” said Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation. “It’s a good example of state and federal agencies and other stakeholders working together to recover a species facing extinction. These whales have shown consistent gains in numbers and occupy their entire historical range, which demonstrates that they are not in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. This is a prime example of a recovered species that should be delisted from the ESA.”

For more information, contact Doug Vincent-Lang at douglas.vincent-lang@alaska.gov, or phone (907) 267-2339.