Australia’s whale rebound a success story, says biologist Duke
Australia’s decision to remove humpback whales from its endangered species list is a testament to the recovery of this majestic marine mammoth, a victory that should be celebrated and pave the way for conservationists to draw attention to other lesser-known and heavily depleted marine mammal populations, say marine scientists.
Earlier this year, Australia’s Department for the Environment removed humpback whales from the list, citing evidence the population there has recovered to pre-industrial whale numbers.
The recovery of humpback whales off the Australian coast reflects most, but not all, of the species’ return to the world since the International Whaling Commission declared a whaling moratorium in 1985 to help avoid the virtual extinction of these animals.
“Once they exceed the statutory criteria that would release them from these lists, they should be delisted,” said David Johnston, associate professor of practical marine conservation ecology at Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort. “It’s a very important concept to get people to understand. It’s really hard for people to understand how endangered species lists work and whether or not we should be investing in this stuff if you never take species off the lists. Mainly, just by stopping killing them, their populations have recovered, and we should be happy that we were able to actually reverse those trends that we inflicted on those animals.
Johnston, a conservation biologist who conducts population assessments and studies the role of animals in ecosystems, has co-authored articles that examine the importance of celebrating conservation successes and people’s acceptance of animal recovery. ‘a species.
One such example here on the east coast is the gray seal, a species once found in large colonies as far south as Cape Hatteras.
19 government sponsored hunting and bounty programsand and 20and centuries have nearly wiped out the gray seals in this area. Then, in 1972, the US Marine and Mammal Protection Act reversed the course of the species’ existence.
“A lot of people who live in the places where these animals are recovering now have spent most of their lives in a world without these seals there,” Johnston said. “There was this implicit assumption that they would never be part of the ecosystem again, which is really funny because at the same time we’re passing laws and spending a lot of money trying to get those populations back. I think that it comes down to these basic issues where we all have an experience that we consider normal and that’s our baseline, but it’s probably very different from how things were 100 years ago.
Australia’s delisting of humpback whales follows that of other countries, including Canada and the United States.
In the fall of 2016, the United States removed nine of the world’s 14 distinct population segments of humpback whales from the Endangered Species Act list. The handful of populations that remain on the list are those located off the Cape Verde Islands, in the western North Pacific, in Central America, and in the Arabian Sea. Central American humpback whales are endangered.
According to reports, the number of humpback whales in Australia has increased from around 1,500 in the early 1980s to 40,000 today.
As the humpback whale population rebuilds, the whales take on their role in the ecosystem, recycling nutrients by eating and then pooping, a process that evenly distributes nutrients to the marine life that lives in it. the upper part of the ocean.
Still, there are skeptics of Australia’s delisting who warn that humpback whales remain vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
When asked if there was a ‘but’ to the successful recovery of the humpback whale population off the coast of Australia, Johnston replied: ‘I don’t really think so’.
“I think we have a lot of things in place to protect these animals even when they come off the endangered species list,” he said. “Even though many marine animals in the United States are not endangered, it is illegal for people to go out and kill, harm or harass them because they are vulnerable. In that sense, they don’t really need to be on the endangered species list to trigger protection. It’s very similar in Australia. I think the key is to move beyond worrying about it and embracing success and then hopefully taking the resources and effort spent on a species that has recovered and directing them to a species who really needs help.
And, there are many species of marine mammals that need such help.
Take the vaquita, a small porpoise discovered in the late 1950s, now on the verge of extinction.
Vaquita lives in the Gulf of California in Mexico, where only 10 remain, according to 2022 reports.
Marine mammal experts say this species, which is caught and drowned in gillnets, could go extinct this year if illegal net fishing in Mexico continues.
The Snubfin dolphin, native to Australian waters around the Sahul Shelf that stretches from Australia’s northern coast to New Guinea, is another species that could benefit from redirected resources from the recovery of humpback whales.
“I feel like we have the opportunity to turn our attention to the most endangered species and hopefully make progress,” Johnston said. “It’s good to think of this as a larger issue where we need to start recognizing the successes in conservation and scaling them up. If we don’t, it will be very difficult for people to support actions to restore endangered species. If we’re never successful, we’ll never be able to show that we can do the job, so it’s really hard to get people to invest in things like that. We all need to have that injection of optimism and hope that is really greatly bolstered when we can demonstrate that we’ve done the job. It should be this lesson going forward that even though we’ve done some pretty awful things, we can stop doing some of those things and do some good things, then we can be successful.