NOAA announces some Alaska whales no longer endangered

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday that most humpback whales will come off the endangered species list. And that means some whales that spend time in Alaska.

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Humpback whale diving in Juneau. (Creative Commons photo by Tony Hisgett)
Humpback whale diving in Juneau. (Creative Commons photo by Tony Hisgett)

But some sub-groups of humpbacks around the world will remain on the list.

Three different humpback populations visit Alaska and now they all fall into different categories. The Hawaii population is delisted. The Mexico population is still labeled as threatened under the endangered species act. The Western North Pacific humpback — which feeds in the Bering Sea and Aleutian chain — is still listed as endangered.

Marta Nammack, a NOAA endangered species act coordinator, said with the different types of humpbacks there are different approaches needed to determine which species are no longer endangered.

“Our Alaska region is going to have to use a proportional approach to decide what populations is being affected by different things that happen like vessel strikes or fishing gear entanglements,” Nammack said.

Nammack said fishing gear entanglement is a serious threat to the Western North Pacific humpbacks and that’s expected to increase. The Mexico population of humpbacks labeled as threatened feed in Southeast Alaska waters. NOAA said there wasn’t enough data to indicate a population increase.

Angela Somma, chief of NOAA’s endangered species division, says the agency looked at the impact of climate change on humpbacks and whether that could affect the overall population down the line.

“There certainly are issues to be concerned about but we found no basis to conclude that impacts of climate change contribute to extinction risks to these population now or even in the future,” Somma said.

Commercial whaling in the 1800s and early 1900s significantly reduced the humpback population. It was listed under the Endangered Species Conservation act in 1970 and later the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

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