Action Line: NOAA official discusses status of humpback whale populations

    The recent pronouncement on humpback whale populations from NOAA Fisheries was the topic of discussion on Action Line Thursday.

    It's described as a "true ecological success story...

    According to Deputy for Protected Resources in the Alaska Region Aleria Jensen, "We've got a success story here to celebrate."

    The federal agency determined that there are 14 populations of humpbacks worldwide and nine have recovered and no longer warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act.

    "We had a team called a biological review team that took this under their belts. It was a long, long drawn out process, with a lot of thorough analysis, looking at the levels of threat to these populations, their growth rates, and their abundance. What we announced last month is that nine of those populations have been removed from the Endangered Species Act. We've got a huge story of recovery, resiliency, and also a story of caution and continued challenges because we have four of the fourteen populations that are still warranted for listing as endangered, and one that is warranted as threatened."

    Two of the four populations that remain endangered are found in U. S. waters.  The Central America population feeds off the West Coast while the Western North Pacific population roams the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.  The threatened Mexico population also feeds off the west coast of the U. S. and Alaska.

    Jensen says its a story of which all Americans should be proud.  It  shows the power of the nation's environmental laws, she says.

    Jensen harks back to her childhood growing up in Juneau to underscore what has happened since then when she talks about the first time she saw a humpback...

    "It's a really vivid memory for me personally because I never saw them as a kid. I remember heading out of my granddad's lawn to go trawling out at Amalga, and not long after we left the harbor, suddenly there was a fluke ahead of us. To me it was like seeing a dinosaur. So, I think it is indicative there just weren't many around in the 70's and 80's here in Juneau, and now we've got this Hawaii breeding population coming up to the Southeast to forest. That's 11,000 individuals."

    At the same time this announcement was made, the agency filed two separate, complementary regulations....

    "We reissued the approach regulations in both Alaska and Hawaii for humpback whales. It's important for folks to know while they're out on the water that the approach regulations passed by NOAA in 2008 continue to exist throughout the state. There's a few different parts to it. When you're out on the water as a mariner, what it basically means is that you must keep a minimum of 100 yards away from a humpback whale, maintain a slow, safe speed in their vicinity, pursue animals, and what we call "leapfrogging," where you're cutting off a whale and affecting its ability to naturally move."

    Jensen says those rules take effect on October 11.

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