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For Immediate Release, August 12, 2009

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 845-6703

Humpback Whales on Rocky Road to Recovery;
Endangered Species Success Story Will Be Thwarted if
Ocean Acidification and Other Threats Not Addressed

SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it will review the endangered status of humpback whales to determine if the classification is accurate. Humpbacks were listed as endangered in 1970; the upcoming review could result in removing the protections of the Endangered Species Act for the species or downlisting the whale to “threatened” status in some or all of its range. Recent surveys have found that humpback whale populations are generally on an upward trend.

“Increasing numbers of humpback whales hold promise for recovery, but this Endangered Species Act success story could be reversed if we don’t address other threats to the species, primarily the looming disaster of ocean acidification,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Once decimated by commercial whaling, populations of humpback whales have grown following protection of the species. Prior to commercial whaling, scientists estimate, humpback-whale numbers exceeded 125,000; whaling may have reduced the population by as much as 90 percent. In the North Pacific, humpback whale numbers may be up from a low of 1,400 whales in 1966 to 20,000 now. Despite increasing numbers in the Atlantic and Pacific, humpback whale populations are still vulnerable and remain below their historic numbers. Direct threats to the species include entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, offshore oil development, and military sonar.

An overriding threat to humpback whales and the ocean ecosystem they rely upon – and one that threatens to undermine all other conservation efforts for the whale – is ocean acidification, the increasing acidity of seawater resulting from the ocean’s uptake of carbon dioxide. Humpback whales are filter feeders that draw large mouthfuls of plankton, tiny crustaceans, and fish from the water. Ocean acidification impairs the reproduction and growth, and can dissolve the thin shells, of plankton whales eat. Already the world’s oceans have become about 30 percent more acidic due to fossil-fuel use, and nearly every marine animal studied has had an adverse response to acidification. Absent reductions in carbon dioxide pollution, marine ecosystems will undergo massive chemical changes that could imperil many species, including the humpback whale.

“Humpback whales are not out of the dark yet, and they still face myriad threats – from entanglement in fishing gear to deadly collisions with boats, to the unraveling of the marine ecosystem as a result of ocean acidification,” said Sakashita. “Without quick action to reduce these threats, humpback whales still need the safety net of protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act.”

The last status review for the humpback whale was completed in 1999. The National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting information and accepting comments on the humpback-whale status review until October 11, 2009.

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