NOAA announced today its final decision that humpback whales in nine of 14 distinct population segments (DPSs) will no longer be listed under the Endangered Species Act. A DPS is made up of whales that share the same low latitude breeding area, but migrate seasonally to specific mid- to high latitude feeding grounds that may differ among individuals.
Four DPSs are still listed as endangered: the Arabian Sea, Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa, Central America and the Western North Pacific. One off Mexico is now listed as threatened. Humpback whales in U.S. waters and on the high seas remain protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1973, regardless of their ESA status. Humpback whales that feed off the U.S. East Coast are a small, regular component of the delisted West Indies DPS. The vast majority of that DPS feeds elsewhere in the North Atlantic, off parts of Canada (the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Labrador), Greenland, Iceland and Norway.
CCS has studied humpback whales in three oceans and our research in the North Atlantic now spans nearly four decades. This Federal decision does not change our commitment to the scientific understanding of this species, continued population studies and the evaluation of on-going threats such as entanglement in fishing gear. Long-term research is as important now as ever to address the data gaps and uncertainties noted during the Federal review process. Such research will also be essential to evaluate whether changes in listing status have any unexpected, adverse effects.