Humpbacks in the News

Humpback song (c) 2013. Diane Reardon. 28"x22"

Humpback song (c) 2013. Diane Reardon. 28"x22"

Humpbacks are in the news, locally and worldwide.

Local Showings

Locally, we have a chance to see a new film in 3D IMAX at Seattle Science Center, from now through at least June. Especially good for the kid in us all, Humpback Whales shows at 9:30 and 10:45 daily at the newly remodeled Boeing theater.

Global Presence

On the worldwide stage, the National Marine Fisheries Service (U.S.) has proposed a reclassification of humpbacks. They are proposing that of the 14 populations followed, 10 no longer are ‘endangered’, that is, in danger of extinction. Cape Verde and Arabian Sea populations would remain ‘endangered’ while Western North Pacific and Central America groups would be downlisted to ‘threatened’ (possible future extinction).

Implications of Revised Humpback Endangered Species Act Listing (ESA)

As I tried to understand this proposed change, I found the initial good news led me to some confusion on whale regulation in general. I offer a very brief look at what’s involved and encourage my readers to keep their ears open for more news; the agency will accept our comments for 90 days (July 7th by my count).

Good News

First of all, it appears that this U.S. agency has been collecting data effectively enough to see a rise in numbers of whales in some areas. Good news. Also if the data show clear differences between the 14 populations, I’d consider that to be scientific progress. Such details help get us beyond the noble goal of ‘save the whales’ into the complexity of where and how to take specific actions.

Regulating National and International Waters

Currently, whales are protected by at least three sets of regulations:

1)      The United States’ ESA (1973) enacted for conservation of species in trouble and their habitats, and

2)      The United States’ Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA-1972) which prohibits the ‘taking’ of marine mammals except for specific permitted situations, and

3)      The International Whaling Commission’s rules and its 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling.

Each set also has more overlapping aspects (e.g. strandings, fishing limits, etc.) and it would be helpful to understand how these laws come together when considering the proposed ESA listing changes. For example, if the ESA listing is changed, the MMPA should still protect the humpbacks from being ‘taken’ in our waters which extend 200 miles offshore.

Depending on details, however, the listing changes could be creating unintended loopholes for offshore drilling and military operations as discussed in a recent blogpost at Deafening Sounds of Freedom.

It is even more unclear to me how U. S. laws impact other nations and how the U. S. membership in the International Whaling Commission would be affected by delisting.

So explore more, watch the news, and let’s see if we can send in some thoughts and comments to the NMFS* by July.
*Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910