Between 1920 and 1950 whales were heavily exploited and populations all over the world were decimated.
Alaska has petitioned to remove the Alaskan Humpback whale (which migrates between Alaska and Hawaii) off the endangered list. At first this may seem like a positive sign, a time of good news where the population has recovered after 40 years of protection. The Hawaii Fisherman’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition filed a separate petition to delist the whale. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were requested to delist the whale from the US Endangered Species Act. NOAA “has determined that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted”. It has been claimed that there is population growth and the regulations already in place will protect the whale without its endangered status.
The population has been estimated at 22,000 whales. This is an increase from only 1000 in the late 1990s after commercial whaling ended. NOAA will conduct status reviews of the central north Pacific and entire north Pacific populations to project population growth rates and threats, such as fishing gear and potential ship strikes. The review will take around a year. After this time the decision will come to delist the whale, reduce the status to threatened or take no action.
“The recovery of humpback whales in the North Pacific is an [Endangered Species Act] success story,” Division of Wildlife Conservation director Doug Vincent-Lang said in a statement. “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.”
The removal of the status could benefit others than just the whale. The removal of the endangered status would ease the process for exploration for Arctic oil. Production rates of oil are declining rapidly, dropping from 759 million barrels in 1988 to 205 million barrels today. Environmentalists are worried that taking the whale off the endangered list will open the gateway to drilling in the Arctic oceans. It is argued that the whale has not sufficiently recovered to take it off the endangered list. When the Caribbean monk seal was removed from the endangered list it became extinct before 2008.
Shouldn’t the Alaskan Humpback whale be given a chance to live, to swim, to rear young, to migrate before the drilling starts? Are we so greedy for oil that we are prepared to potentially lose the Alaskan Humpback? NOAA cannot be certain if the whale population will be steady or all the work that has been put into protecting them will be undone in a few years of commercial oil drilling. The whales may be at a point at which their population is sustainable but NOAA has to be certain. In an energy hungry world, it has to be questioned if choosing to delist the whale is for the animal or to benefit the human population. The Caribbean monk seal was lost, let us not lose the Alaskan Humpback whale.