Populations of humpback whales leap off endangered species list

It's a good day for whales. This afternoon, NOAA Fisheries took nine of 14 populations of humpback whales off the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act. It's a place that humpback whales have occupied since the Endangered Species Act was signed in 1973.

"Today's news is a true ecological success story," said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. "Whales, including the humpback, serve an important role in our marine environment. Separately managing humpback whale populations that are largely independent of each other allows us to tailor conservation approaches for each population."

Four populations are still considered "endangered" and one is considered "threatened." All five of these populations continue to enjoy the protections of the Endangered Species Act. For some of these five, they are still experiencing threats like fishing gear entanglements, energy exploration, disease, whaling, and vessel collisions.

Stunning humpback whales in the wild:

Stunning humpback whales in the wild
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Stunning humpback whales in the wild
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: A Humpback whale in mid lunge, feeding on Bunker off NYC's Rockaway Beach on September 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Artie Raslich/Getty Images)
SEA OF CORTEZ, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO - 2015/02/20: Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) slapping the pectoral fin on the water in the Bahia de La Paz, Sea of Cortez in Baja California, Mexico. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Humpback mother and calf.Baja Coast MexicoThe 2 whales were swimming along the Baja coast of Mexico, in the Pacific Ocean just outside Cabo
Humpback whale calf with mother shot in Vava'u Tonga in clear water. Sun is sparkling on the whales back.
Pod of humpback whales Maui, Hawaii at sunset.
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USA, Alaska, Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaengliae) sending up plumes of mist while group feeding in Chatham Strait on summer evening
(photo: Pat Hawks/Flickr)

The delisting of the nine populations won't mean major changes for humpbacks. The Marine Mammal Protection Act still applies to all humpback whale populations, and the whales will continue to be protected from hunting and other activities. New regulations will also limit the distance at which vessels can approach humpback whales in Alaska and Hawaii, where whales are frequently spotted. But federal agencies will no longer be required to consult with the NOAA every time they engage in an activity that might affect non-endangered humpback whale populations.

The delisting of the humpback whale populations follows news over the weekend from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that reclassified the giant panda populations as "vulnerable" instead of "endangered". Gorillas, on the other hand, went the other way, and are now listed as "critically endangered".

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