On February 26, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game petitioned (pdf) the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to remove the Central North Pacific subpopulation of humpback whales from the federal list of endangered or threatened species. In a press release, the director of Alaska’s Division of Wildlife Conservation declared the species a “prime example of a recovered species that should be delisted” from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because “the threat of extinction for this subpopulation is gone.”
The entire North Pacific humpback whale species (Megaptera novaeangliae) was listed under the ESA in 1970, when the population was estimated to be as few as 1,000. Estimates now place the Central North Pacific population at around 21,800 animals.
The Central North Pacific humpback whale subpopulation feeds off the coast of Alaska each summer, and migrates to Hawaii in the winter. Alaska state officials called ESA protections for the species a regulatory burden on industries such as fishing and oil and gas. They noted that, were the species to be delisted, other protections such as those provided under the Marine Mammal Protection Act would remain in place. Critics of the petition argue that the whales still face too may threats to be delisted, including entanglement in fishing gear, boat collisions, and changing ocean chemistry resulting from climate change and noise pollution.
Alaska’s petition echoes an April 2013 petition filed by the State of Hawaii urging delisting of the entire North Pacific humpback population. NMFS stated that it will respond to Alaska’s petition within 90 days.