Humpback whales will be removed from Australia’s threatened-species list after a strong recovery was determined by the government’s independent scientific panel on vulnerable species.
The species was nearly extinct due to whaling. However, since the 1980s, when the practice was mostly phased out, the population has exploded.
However, environmentalists caution that, while their numbers have recovered, the creatures continue to face significant dangers such as pollution and climate change.
Sussan Ley, the Environment Minister, said the adjustment was made after the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee advised her that the humpback whale population had become robust enough to be removed from the list.
“They looked at concerns like climate change and krill fisheries, as well as all of the other factors that affect the species’ population patterns,” she explained.
“The majority of the listings I create are up-listings or first-time additions to the list of species and ecological communities.
“It’s quite heartening to see a great conservation story result in a species being removed from the list.”
Despite being delisted, the species is still protected in Australian seas under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act since it is a migratory species and a cetacean, according to Ms Ley.
It is illegal to kill, harm, take, trade, maintain, relocate, or meddle with a humpback because of its protected status.
Warming continues to pose a hazard to the human population.
The delisting, according to Macquarie University marine biologist Vanessa Pirotta, might help concentrate more attention — and funding — on whale species that haven’t recovered as well as others.
“There’s been this impetus to celebrate the conservation of these creatures, but also to review their classification in terms of protection,” said Dr. Pirotta.
“We will continue to monitor these populations with caution, enabling us to focus our conservation funds on other species like the southern right whale.”
Dr. Pirotta cautioned, however, that the delisting did not mean authorities could rest on their laurels, since whales face a variety of risks, including climate change.
“Ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, acoustic pollution, marine pollution, and, of course, climate change are some of the problems that whales face internationally,” she added.
“Climate change is a huge one because it affects where these animals go, where prey distributions are, and sadly, a drop in sea ice implies a loss in Antarctic krill habitat, which is one of these humpback whale populations’ key food supplies.”
“It’s a mixed bag because you have a rebounding whale population, which is wonderful, but we also need to be cautiously hopeful and continue to watch this species in the future.”
Some conservationists are concerned if the move being made too quickly
Last year, when the Department of the Interior was considering removing humpback whales from the endangered species list, a number of conservationists expressed worries that it was too soon.
Nicola Beynon, the campaign director for Humane Society International, was one of them, warning that delisting the whales was short-sighted owing to the significant threat presented by climate change.
Ms Beynon said, “The resurgence of humpback whales that travel up and down the Australian coast is absolutely something to celebrate.”
“And the Australian government has played a key part in that recovery, so we understand why the government wants to rejoice, but we are afraid that the joy will be fleeting.”
“Humpback whales are facing the next major challenge, which is climate change, and forecasts suggest that humpback whale recovery may stall and revert.”
Ms. Beynon cautioned that by the end of the century, the population might be in precipitous decline.
She believes that a more cautious approach would have been preferable to entirely delisting the whales, and that the government should reconsider how the listing system works.
“There’s clearly potential to strengthen our environmental laws to make them more responsive to future dangers that species face, especially when they’re well-known and well-predicted concerns,” she added.
“The current legislation is a little clumsy in that it’s very black and white, whereas nature is far more convoluted than that,” says the author.