August 12, 2008

Many Endangered Whales On The Rebound

Although once under threat of extinction, many big whales are on the "road to recovery" thanks to bans set in place in the 1980s, an environmental group said Tuesday.

In its review of cetaceans, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported a "guardedly optimistic" picture for many large whales, according to Randall Reeves, chair of the cetacean specialist group of the IUCN.

"Humpbacks and southern right whales are making a comeback in much of their range mainly because they have been protected from commercial hunting," said Reeves.

"This is a great conservation success and clearly shows what needs to be done to ensure these ocean giants survive," he said in a statement.

Each year, the IUCN publishes a Red List of threatened species.

This year, the humpback whale was moved to "least concern" from vulnerable. The southern right whale and the common minke whale were moved down to the "least concern" category from the "lower risk" grouping.

The right whale gets its name from whalers who deemed it a particularly good species to hunt, because it floats after being killed.

Bill Perrin, another expert at the group known by its acronym IUCN, said the humpback whale population dropped to the "low thousands" when it was finally banned from commercial hunts in 1966. Its numbers have since risen to at least 60,000, Perrin said, adding that the population is growing at a healthy rate of 5 percent each year in the North Pacific.

While the right whales that hug the southern coasts of Argentina, South Africa and Australia are also recuperating, their cousins in the north are struggling.

There may be only 300 North Atlantic right whales along the Eastern Seaboard, Perrin said. While hunting them is illegal, many continue to be wounded or killed in collisions with ships or entanglements with fishing gear, he added.

"Overall, nearly a quarter of cetacean species are considered threatened...nine species are listed as 'endangered' or 'critically endangered'," the highest levels of threat, the IUCN said in a statement.

Image Courtesy Whit Welles (Wikipedia)


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