Humpback whales make a comeback in Australian waters

July 27, 2015 by Hayley Mayne, Murdoch University
Humpback whales make a comeback in Australian waters
Credit: Ari S. Friedlaender, taken under NMFS permit

A review of the scientific research on the recovery of Australia's humpback whale populations has revealed that they are increasing at a remarkable rate and that the increase is among the highest documented worldwide, according to a paper published in the journal, Marine Policy.

Corresponding author on the paper, Professor Lars Bejder from Murdoch University said the iconic humpback whales of Australia have become a symbol of both hope and optimism for marine conservation, providing a unique opportunity to celebrate successful scientific management action that protects marine species.

"As of 2012, scientists determined that humpback whales on the west coast increased at a rate of nine per cent a year and on the east coast at a rate of 10 per cent a year," Professor Bejder said.

"The west coast population had recovered to approximately 90 per cent of their known pre-whaling numbers.

"Similarly the east coast population recovered to 63 per cent of its known pre-whaling population."

The discussion paper written by a team of international collaborators entitled 'Embracing conservation success of recovering humpback whale populations: evaluating the case for downlisting their conservation status in Australia' reviews previously-collected and analysed data and presents an optimistic discussion proposing a revision of the conservation status for the humpback whales found in Australian waters.

The conservation success of Australian humpback whales means their risk of extinction is extremely unlikely and that they no longer fulfill the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) criteria to be listed as Threatened with a Vulnerable status.

The proposed revision of the status of humpback whales in Australia follows the actions of several international governments and conservation organisations that have recently revised the status of other humpback whale populations experiencing similar growth around the world.

"If humpback whales were removed from the Australian Threatened species list, the EPBC Act would still protect them from significant impacts as a Matter of National Environmental Significance, as these whales are a migratory species," Professor Bejder said.

"Beyond Australia, the International Whaling Committee manages the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which is essential for the humpback whales' continued success."

Michelle Bejder, lead author on the report from BMT Oceanica said that one of the most beneficial consequences of removing humpbacks from the Threatened Species list would be the opportunity to reprioritise funding to support species that are at a greater risk of extinction.

"Hopefully other animal species may be afforded a similar chance of recovery success to that of the humpback whales," she said.

"Blue have been depleted greatly and remain endangered, while very little scientific data is available on Australian snubfin dolphins and Australian humpback dolphins."

Moving forward the paper's authors say management efforts must now balance the need to maintain recovery within a marine environment that is experiencing increased coastal development as well as rapid growth in industrial and exploration activities.

"Increased interactions with maritime users are likely to occur, including acoustic disturbance from noise, collisions with vessels, entanglements in fishing gear, habitat destruction from coastal development and cumulative interactions with the whale-watch industry," Professor Bejder said.

"Adaptive management actions and new approaches to gain public support will be vital to maintain the growth and recovery of Australian humpback whales and prevent future population declines."

Explore further: Agency: Humpback whales' recovery is national success story

More information: "Embracing conservation success of recovering humpback whale populations: Evaluating the case for downlisting their conservation status in Australia," Marine Policy, Available online 25 July 2015, ISSN 0308-597X,

Related Stories

Humpback whales rebounding on Brazil's coast

September 2, 2012

(AP)—An institute that tracks the population of Humpback whales that reproduce along Brazil's coast says the number of the once-threatened mammals has tripled over the last 10 years.

Many endangered species are back—but face new struggles

June 2, 2015

A study of marine mammals and other protected species finds that several once endangered species, including the iconic humpback whale, the northern elephant seal and green sea turtles, have recovered and are repopulating ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

What can machine learning reveal about the solid Earth?

March 22, 2019

Scientists seeking to understand Earth's inner clockwork have deployed armies of sensors listening for signs of slips, rumbles, exhales and other disturbances emanating from the planet's deepest faults to its tallest volcanoes. ...

A social bacterium with versatile habits

March 22, 2019

Related individuals of a soil bacterial species live in cooperative groups and exhibit astonishing genetic and behavioural diversity. ETH researchers recently published these findings in Science .


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.