Humpback Whale Population Bounces Back

This species of whales has rebounded from near extinction to over 25,000 today.


(Michael smith ITWP /

Whales are majestic creatures. They are some of the largest mammals in the oceans and on the land. There are 89 species of whales and one of  the most recognizable of them is the humpback whale that lives in oceans and seas around the world.

Known for their distinctive shape and beautiful whale song this whale has unfortunately been widely hunted almost to the brink of extinction before a moratorium went into effect in 1966. By then, the humpback population had already fallen by 90 percent. Now, the population has rebounded from around 450 whales to 25,000 according to a University of Washington press release.

The figures are from a new study that was published in the October 16, 2019 issue of the journal Royal Society Open Science. Conducted by the university's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, the authors believe that the new estimates of humpback population are close to their pre-whaling numbers.

"We were surprised to learn that the population was recovering more quickly than past studies had suggested," Best, a UW doctoral student said in the press release.

This new study contradicts a count that was conducted by the International Whaling Commission that was completed in 2015 and announced that the whales were only at 30 percent of their previous numbers. But new types of improved data is now available.

"Accounting for pre-modern whaling and struck-and-lost rates where whales were shot or harpooned but escaped and later died, made us realize the population was more productive than we previously believed," said Adams, a UW doctoral student who helped construct the new model used in the study.

It is really important to use the most accurate information when conducting new population estimates according to Alex Zerbini from the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center's Marine Mammal Laboratory and the lead author of the study.

He stressed that the new findings are exceptional news of how an endangered species can bounce back from near extinction.

Other whale populations are also increasing. Bowhead whales, an arctic species was reduced to only around 1,000 before the moratorium and has now increased tenfold to 10,000 in just a few years.

Figures like these prove that with effective laws, protection of habitats, and conservation efforts, species can be brought back from the brink.

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