After being almost hunted to extinction, Humpback whales were added to the U.S. list of endangered species in 1988. Adults can be 40-50 feet long and weigh around 80,000lbs! They are a baleen whale, which means that they filter their food with baleen plates rather than eat it with teeth. North Pacific humpback whales came particularly close to extinction, with an estimated population of just 1,500 before the whaling ban took place. Since then, they went from "endangered" to "vulnerable" in 1996, and with a current population estimated around 18,000-20,000, some are calling for the species to be removed from the protection list altogether.
On one hand, it's a victory. Efforts by conservationists have helped the species rebound to a more viable population. But on the other hand, any decision about removal from the US endangered species list must be taken very carefully. A premature removal of this extra protection could have negative consequences.
The Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance is the main group that has been asking for North Pacific humpback whales to be removed from the endangered species list:
The fishermen say they don't want whaling to resume and aren't asking to be allowed to hunt the whales. They're also not trying to make it easier for them to catch fish, as they say the law's protections for the whales don't interfere with fishing.
Instead, the fishermen are acting after watching environmental conservation groups petition to add many more species to the endangered list in recent years, like dozens of corals, seven different damselfish and a rare dolphin called a false killer whale, said Philip Fernandez, the coalition's president. The government should consider humpback whales for removal to maintain a balance, Fernandez said.
"You cannot add species after species after species without evaluating whether there are species that should come off," the West Hawaii fisherman told The Associated Press by telephone from Kailua-Kona on Hawaii's Big Island.(source)
The last time that a species' recovery led to a removal from the list was in 1994, when NOAA delisted the Eastern North Pacific population of gray whales.
We should know in 2014 if the North Pacific humpback joins this select club.