Humpback whale populations healthy in Australia

By Karl Gruber August 26, 2015
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It’s good news for humpback whales, whose numbers are on the rise

HUMPBACK WHALES ARE SAVED, at least in Australian waters. This is the message from a new report suggesting the whales should no longer be listed as a threatened species.

For Australia, a country harbouring one of the highest rates of species facing extinction, the news is a welcome break.

Since 1999, humpback whales populations have been considered a vulnerable species, according to the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

But according to Dr Lars Bejder, from Murdoch University, humpback whale numbers are up. A review data published in recent years show yearly population increases of nine per cent for the west coast and 10 per cent for the east coast since 2012 – the highest documented increases for this species around the world. Some populations have even recovered to 90 per cent of pre-whaling levels, says Lars.

The findings suggest a revision of the conservation status of this iconic species in Australian waters is needed.

“Our conclusions serve as an example of optimism and hope in the conservation of marine fauna protection, as the relentless communication of marine conservation problems does not always encourage politicians, policy makers, and the public to solve them,” said Lars. “We highlight a success story, which provides hope and optimism that ongoing conservation actions can prevail.”

Humpback whales on the recovery

If humpback whales indeed make it out of the threatened species list, funding would flow onto other, more critically endangered species, says Dr David Johnston of Duke University USA, co-author of the study.

Such shift in research funding will likely bring its own new challenge for Australia, says David.
“Future challenges in Australia will be to protect a marine environment that contains growing humpback whale populations and to develop alternative approaches to ecological sustainability,” he adds.

Also, the loosening of protective legislations may result in some negative outcomes for these whales, says David.

“There will be increases in interactions with maritime users, including acoustic disturbance from noise, collisions with vessels, entanglements in fishing gear, habitat destruction from coastal development and cumulative interactions with the whale-watch industry,” he says.

David thinks all this means new management approaches will be needed to maintain healthy humpback populations, including approaches gain public support to maintain the growth and recovery of Australian humpback whales, preventing future population declines.