Protected Humpbacks Recovering, But Whales Worldwide Face Growing Threats

Tuesday, 12 August, 2008
Cape Cod, MA
Revisions to the status of humpback whales on the world’s Red List of Threatened Species were announced today by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) based in Gland, Switzerland. The humpback whale, depleted to very low levels by 1970 due to commercial whaling, has shown a substantial recovery over the last 40 years, thanks to international protection, and has moved from “vulnerable” to “least concern” on the Red List.  Two subpopulations, the Arabian and Oceania humpback whales are still classified as endangered.
“This is a huge win for humpback whales and all those who have worked for more than four decades to protect them,” said Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Program Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW -  “Ending commercial whaling was one of the most important conservation victories of the 20th century. Today, our planet’s great whales face more threats than ever, including renewed whaling by Japan, Iceland and Norway.  It is our generation’s turn to keep these magnificent creatures off the target list forever.”
Today’s revisions to the IUCN Red List serve as a reminder of the challenges facing whale species still struggling to recover from more than a century of commercial whaling.

Antarctic blue whales, the largest animal ever to have lived, have shown some small signs of recovery, but are still so extremely rare that they remain listed as Critically Endangered, the highest category of threat.

Fin and sei whales, once the mainstay of the world’s whaling industry, are still listed as Endangered and have shown no substantial recovery worldwide since their depletion by commercial whaling.  Despite their endangered status, these species are still being hunted by Japan. Iceland has hunted fin whales as recently as 2006 and is currently attempting to re-open the international trade in fin whale meat.
Most countries stopped catching fin and sei whales in the 1970s, but Japan resumed killing sei whales in 2002, under the pretext of catches for “scientific purposes.”  In 2006, the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic resumed catches of fin whales, thereby ending 30 years of protection for large whales in the Antarctic, despite their continued endangered status. 

Since 2006, the Government of Japan has threatened to resume killing humpback whales in the Antarctic, defying both the global moratorium on commercial whaling and the designation of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, a circumpolar whale sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission in 1994. 
The highly visible and charismatic humpback whale has become an icon of the conservation movement and is one of the mainstays of the world’s fast-growing whale-watching industry.  Experts cite the updated IUCN listing as a success story in the ongoing effort to protect the world’s great whales. 

“Conservation works,” Ramage said. “When we act responsibly, endangered species begin to recover.  The humpback and other great whale species may never return to their historic numbers, but today’s news is very encouraging for all who care about the future of these magnificent creatures.”

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation