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Humpback whales in Southwest Atlantic nearly back to ‘pre-hunting’ numbers

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Finally, after seemingly endless news reports about fatalities of humpback whales around our shores, as seen in Tragic end for the humpback whale in the River Thames, some positive news about their cold-water cousins in the Southwest Atlantic.

The humpback whale population in this area, which once numbered more than 27,000 individuals, was driven to the brink of extinction after being hunted remorselessly by the steam-driven whaling boats operating out of the extensive whaling station on South Georgia in the early part of the 20th century. It got to the point where in the 1920s, whaling ships struggled to find and kill just 20 or so humpback whales in a year.

But now, according to a report published in the Royal Society journal Open Science, it is believed that there are currently just shy of 25,000 individuals in this particular group, which winters off the coast of Brazil and travels to sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters in the summer. Astoundingly, that is more than 90 percent of the pre-hunting level.

Dr Alex Zerbini from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), was the lead author of the report, and he commented: “It’s a positive story. Though humpbacks were protected from the 1960s, there was a bit of illegal hunting still going on, but the whales' recovery would likely have been well under way by the beginning of the 1970s.

“But we didn't really measure anything until the 1980s and it wasn't until we did the first proper assessment at the start of the 2000s that we realised just how well they were recovering.”

Mark Evans
Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editor-in-Chief Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. 30-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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