A petition from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game may remove a subgroup of humpback whales from the list of endangered species.
The humpback whale was one of the first species placed on the endangered species list in 1970 under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, following the devastation to the population due to modern whaling techniques and equipment.
“We are petitioning for de-listing given that this sub population is no longer at risk of extinction and in need of regulatory protection under the Endangered Species Act,” Douglas Vincent-Lang, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said in an email. “I would also say that adequate regulatory measures are present to ensure the continued conservation of this sub population.”
In the petition to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Department of Commerce, Vincent-Lang outlines a new plan of action for a group of whales with feeding and breeding grounds between Hawaii and Alaska, and the coast of Canada.
According to Vincent-Lang, the Pacific Ocean's humpback whales can be divided into three distinct groups: the Central North Pacific stock, which migrates between Alaska and Hawaii; the Western North Pacific stock, which is located primarily along Asia's coast line, spreading to the Aleutian Islands; and the California/Oregon/Washington/Mexico stock.
Each grouping of whales has shown unique growth rates separate from that of their Pacific counterparts, as well as unique genetic traits and social habits. Using the 1996 DPS policy definition, Vincent-Lang argues that each stock group could be classified as a distinct population segment.
The petition moves to classify the Central North Pacific stock as a DPS primarily so it may be removed from the list.
Vincent-Lang thinks the petition is a step in the right direction. He says the increase in population is evidence that the plans set down to help the species recover worked.
“The recovery of the humpback whale is an ESA success story and a good example of government and non-governmental agencies and other stakeholders working together to develop and implement conservation actions to recover a species from significant declines. It is important to prioritize this delisting, both to document this ESA success story and to accurately reflect the healthy status of the Central North Pacific population of humpback whale.”
The International Whaling Commission did not return emails regarding the matter, but should the petition reach its goal, Vincent-Lang says it would be up to them to regulate commercial hunting and tourism regulations. Currently, only indigenous communities of countries belonging to the IWC are permitted to hunt whales.
KTUU's Lacie Grosvold contributed to this story.