Humpback Whale numbers bounce back

August 7, 2020
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The first conservation success story is a rebound in humpback whale numbers in the South Atlantic.

New research shows that thanks to intensive conservation efforts, whales in the South Atlantic have rebounded from the brink of extinction as numbers rise from 450 to over 25,000.

Intense action from the whaling industry in the early 1900s saw the population of western South Atlantic humpbacks whales fall to only 450 whales, as most of the mammals were hunted within 12 years.

After protections were put in place in the 1960s and the International Whaling Commission issued a suspension on all commercial whaling in the 1980’s, the struggling population started to recover. Now a new study co-authored by Grant Adams, John Best and André Punt from the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences has revealed that the species’ population (Megaptera novaeangliae) has rebounded to 25,000.

The study used records from the outset of commercial exploitation of humpbacks for pervious data and air and ship based surveys, as well as advanced modelling techniques, were used to predict the current population. Authors suggest the model used in the study could be used to determine population recovery for other species.

The study also examined how the increase of South Atlantic humpbacks may impact the wider ecosystem. Whales are key to the food chain, stabilising food flow and maintaining a healthy ocean. Whale faecal plumes contain valuable nutrients that stimulate the production of microscopic marine algae, or phytoplankton, which form the base of many marine food chains making the a key part of marine ecosystems.

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