Science

Humpback whales back from the brink of extinction and thriving with population growing from 450 to 25,000

There is a preponderance of poignant stories and unfortunate events being reported every day and as a way of giving hope in these uncertain times is a new study that says Humpback Whales in the South Atlantic have come back from the brink of extinction to a level which we can call as thriving.

The population reached its nadir and estimated to be about 450 whales in total; a good 25,000 of them were slaughtered in a 12 year period.

Scientists who kept a track of the whale populations worldwide noticed in the 1960s that the population of these mammals were slowly dwindling and the 1980s, the International Whaling Commission rose up to the occasion and issued a complete ban on commercial whaling to halt the extinction of the species.

Research by Grant Adams, John Best and Andre Punt of the University of Washington’s school of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences found that the struggling whales’ numbers have increased to about 25,000, a number which is close to that of pre-whaling estimates.

Best was pleasantly surprised as they reckoned that the whales aren’t doing all that well in spite of the conservation efforts.

A previous study done by the International Whaling Commission between 2006 and 2015 found that the whales have recovered to about 30% of their pre-whaling estimates however the new study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science has not only upended their argument but also has provided lot more information about their catches, life-history and genetic data.

Adams, a UW doctoral student who worked on the study has mentioned that the whales have lot more fecundity than they reckoned.

They also hope that others can incorporate their model to study population recovery for other species as the software they wrote has been made available to all.

“Transparency is key in doing science”, said Adams.

Lead author Alex Zerbini is a proponent of analyzing the populations of species without any biases.

Zerbini, who has completed this study at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Marina Mammal Laboratory, has maintained that with proper management, populations about to go extinct can have a lease of life.

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