Australia They're back from the brink, but how did humpbacks recover like 'no other whale species has'

02:41  11 april  2021
02:41  11 april  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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For once, good environment news: A humpback whale population has come back from the brink . For a long time it looked as if the western South Atlantic humpbacks were never going to recover from almost two centuries of whaling . A survey in 2006 by the International Whaling Commission conducted from planes found the population had only recovered by 30%. To get a better sense of how they were doing , Zerbini and other researchers set out in a ship in 2008 and then again in 2012, zigzagging across the whales ' breeding and feeding grounds off the eastern coast of South America and

Humpback whales are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. Hunted almost to extinction during the 19th and early 20th centuries, their populations are slowly recovering , and now they ’ re a favorite sight for whale -watchers. Here are 11 facts you might not have known about the mysterious marine But after 200 hours observing humpbacks migrating past the Australian coast, a team from the University of Queensland found that the whales were more likely to breach when the nearest group of other humpbacks was more than two and a half miles away, and that they were more likely to do

a fish in a dark room: Whaling of humpbacks ceased in 1963 after a global decline in numbers. (Supplied: Jasmine Carey) © Provided by ABC NEWS Whaling of humpbacks ceased in 1963 after a global decline in numbers. (Supplied: Jasmine Carey)

It's a species pushed to the brink of extinction by commercial whaling, but almost 60 years later, more than 40,000 humpback whales migrate through Australian waters.

Optimistic estimates suggest about 1,500 humpbacks were left in 1962, with about 800 along the west coast and barely a few hundred on the east coast.

When the conservation movement emerged in the 1970s, whale researcher with the Oceania Project, Wally Franklin said "the community literally knew nothing of what had happened".

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The humpback whale stocks have partially recovered since then, but they are still an endangered species . He has recently collected many tiny skin and blubber samples from sperm whales in order to examine them for pollutants. Preliminary studies have shown terrifying levels of man-made poisons are present in the samples. Payne hopes that when the results are made public it will turn the whale into a symbol of how mankind is poisoning the oceans.

Conservationists are rejoicing after new research showed that whales in the South Atlantic have rebounded from the brink of extinction. Intense pressure from the whaling industry in the early 1900s saw the western South Atlantic population of humpbacks diminish to only 450 whales , after The study also looks at how the revival of South Atlantic humpbacks may have ecosystem-wide impacts. Whales compete with other predators, like penguins and seals, for krill as their primary food source. Krill populations may further be impacted by warming waters due to climate changes, compressing

"It culminated with a savage slaughter of the great whales in Antarctica when modern shipping evolved," Dr Franklin said.

"Between 1900 and 1978, over 2 million whales were killed."

History of the hunt

The whaling of humpbacks began to be phased out in the early 1960s, culminating in 1965 when they became a protected species worldwide.

Whaling of other species, primarily sperm whales, continued until 1978 as Australia adopted an anti-whaling policy.

The International Whaling Commission placed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, effectively ending the practice except in Japan.

Since then, things have gotten so good for the humpback whale, that the federal government is considering whether it should still be designated as a threatened species.

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It’s possible humpbacks are rescuing seals, sunfish, and other species by mistake, but But after the calf had been killed, about 14 more humpbacks arrived—seemingly to prevent the orcas from eating the calf. How coffee can help forests grow faster. Waste left over from the coffee-making process can jolt destroyed forests back to life. Why do whales beach themselves? We’ re partially to blame.

From the brink of extinction to an overpopulation crisis: Rapid rise in humpback whale numbers could overwhelm the Southern Ocean and starve the species . Humpbacks decreased in numbers in the 1960s to just a few hundred in the wild. Conservation efforts saw that the numbers had recovered to 25,000 in 2015. ' They ' re either going to go up to a fairly high number and level off, about 40,000 or 50,000, or they could peak and then crash.' 'If that peak is going to happen it's not far away. We reckon anywhere between 2021 and 2026 and there could be a significant crash in the whale numbers after

"Humpback whale subpopulations have been recovering at close to their maximum possible rate," the Department of Environment's consultation paper stated.

"No other whale species has recovered as strongly, and several have shown little or highly uncertain recovery."

About 16,000 sperm whales were slaughtered by whalers between 1952 and 1978, and according to research from Macquarie University, 74 per cent of the mature bull population off the west coast was killed within the same two decades.

It's worse for the blue whale, which had its population depleted by an estimated 98 per cent according to the Department of Environment.

Neither species has shown any level of major recovery, so why has the humpback whale fared so much better?

Back from the brink

The department suggests that "because populations of several whale species were also severely depleted by whaling, it is considered that there was little competition for food resources" in the Antarctic region.

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Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known to have some of the longest migration distances of all mammals, and this huge journey is about 400 kilometres farther than the previous humpback record. The finding was made by Peter Stevick, a biologist at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Daniel Palacios, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that the record-breaking journey could indicate that migration patterns are shifting as populations begin to recover from near-extinction and the population increases. But the reasons why the whale did not follow the usual

But after analyzing other encounters between the two species , Pitman and his colleagues conclude that humpback whales will also launch preemptive attacks on their predators. Sometimes the intent seemed to be protecting another whale ’s calf. But more often, like with the Weddell seal, the humpbacks for some reason helped a different species . It’s not hard to imagine why humpbacks would rush to the rescue when another humpback whale is under attack. Because they migrate to and from the same breeding grounds where they were born, humpbacks are likely to encounter relatives.

But Dr Franklin said humpbacks also enjoyed a monopoly on the east's coast "perfectly suited" waters.

"The lagoon of the Great Barrier Reef … the humpback whales adopted as a breeding area because it's the shallow warm waters that they need for rearing their calves and the early life of their calves.

"They've got a long coastline to travel along and that coastline provides sheltered habitats that are perfectly suited, Hervey Bay in particular."

Dr Franklin said Hervey Bay, which he has studied since 1989, was "a globally unique humpback whale habitat" that acted as a sanctuary for both females resting from calving or those newly pregnant.

"When they leave Hervey Bay, down the coast off Eden they get some early snacks, and off Tasmania as well they get some early snacks."

While the population of humpback whales that migrate off Australia's east coast have recovered by about 10 per cent per year, Dr Franklin said populations that migrated through the Pacific Islands have only grown by about 5 per cent.

"The suitable breeding areas along the north-east coast of Queensland, were double the area of breeding areas in and around the Pacific Islands," he said.

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"So there's a direct correlation between the availability of breeding areas for successfully rearing calves, and the size of the population."

On the west coast, it has been a similar success story with the International Whaling Commission estimating in 2012 that its population had recovered by 90 per cent.

What happened to the whaling industry?

What's left of modern whaling, primarily hunts the animals for meat, but historically, whales were used in a range of products, including fertiliser, oils, and animal feed.

Cheynes Beach Whaling Company was the last major player in Western Australia's industry, employing 102 people until it ceased operations in 1978.

Between March and November, three vessels would hunt on a daily basis.

It's since been converted into a museum, which general manager Elise van Gorp said served to "tell the story as it was".

"It was much more accepted in the community at that time," she said.

Economic winds shifted against the whaling industry in the 1970s, as the price of whale products sank amid competition from alternatives, regulations around catch quotas tightened, and maintenance costs grew.

While protests against the station had grown, Ms van Gorp said the decision to close Albany's whaling industry was an economic one.

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"There were three whale chasers that were operating and each one of them not only needed repair but needed to be replaced, and that was going to be at a cost of $6 million each," she said.

"Also licences to catch whales were only ever issued on an annual basis so it was difficult thing for the company to plan to know how many whales they would be allowed to catch."

While public sentiment against whaling has well and truly changed, Ms van Gorp said "it's part of our learning experience".

"We have people who do get upset when they come and see and hear about what happened," she said.

"But it is an important part of history."

'Intelligent, ancient species'

Dr Franklin said between the 1960s and the early 90s, the recovery of the humpback population was very slow.

"The number of whales only went from 150 to about 1,000," he said.

"But between 1990 up until now, the population has grown almost at the limit at what we believe to be the biological growth rate."

Dr Franklin said it was exhilarating to consider the recovery of this "intelligent, ancient species" considering how close it came to extinction.

"Humpback whales were evolved to their present form 23 million years ago so they are ancient creatures, they have an ancient culture based on singing," he said.

"They have survived."

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This is interesting!