Humpback whales were commercially harvested around the Australian coast between 1912 and 1972, with tens of thousands of the animals killed, decimating the species
SYDNEY – Australia’s humpback populations are rapidly recovering from the damage caused by whaling and could soon be delisted as a threatened species, scientists say.
Commercial whaling for humpbacks officially ceased in 1966, although numbers continued to be decimated by illegal Soviet whaling operations in the southern hemisphere until 1972.
A review of the species’s recovery has found the east and west coast Australian populations are increasing at remarkable rates, some of the highest documented worldwide, and show no sign of diminishing.
This means the animals are now no longer eligible to be listed as a threatened species under Australian Commonwealth law and should be considered for delisting.
The once over-exploited whale has already had its conservation status downgraded in other regions including the North Pacific population in British Columbia, Canada.
Marine scientist Michelle Bejder, who led the review, said delisting the whale in Australia would free up conservation funding for other species that faced a greater risk of extinction.
“Blue whale populations have been depleted greatly and remain endangered, while very little scientific data is available on Australian snubfin dolphins and Australian humpback dolphins,” she said.
Australia’s Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit, which contributed to the paper published in the journal “Marine Policy”, said it was a rare success story. “For the first time in over a generation, the iconic humpback whales of Australia have become a symbol of both hope and optimism for marine conservation,” it said.
“Optimism in conservation biology is essential to encourage politicians, policy makers and the public to solve conservation problems.”
Humpback whales are classified as a “matter of national environmental significance” because they are a migratory species, so even if they were delisted, they would still be protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.