Q:

Why are humpback whales endangered?

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Quick Answer

Although as of 2014 humpback whales are no longer listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, major threats to their populations include fishing gear entanglement, collisions by ships, impacts on their habitats from pollution and harassment by whale watchers. Future threats include proposed resumption of commercial whale hunting and offshore development of oil and gas mining facilities.

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Full Answer

Extensive commercial hunting of humpback whales, which began in the 18th century and carried on into the 20th century, severely depleted global humpback whale populations, especially after the introduction of the explosive harpoon in the late 19th century. In the 20th century alone, whalers killed over 200,000 humpbacks, until the population dropped to approximately 700 whales. The International Whaling Commission was founded in 1946 to protect worldwide whale populations, and in 1966 it banned the hunting of humpback whales. In 1986, humpback whales were declared Endangered by the IUCN. In 1990, their status was changed to Vulnerable. Because of their resiliency in re-establishing themselves with a worldwide population of at least 80,000, the IUCN reclassified humpback whales in the category of Least Concern as of 2008.

As of 2014, commercial hunting of humpback whales is still banned, except by small native groups in areas such as Greenland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Humpback whale deaths through entanglement in fishing gear are reported annually by U.S. and Japanese fishermen. Ship strikes, though less frequent, occur. Conservationists are concerned about offshore oil and gas development affecting whale populations in places such as Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar and Gabon.

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Related Questions

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    How big is a humpback whale?

    A:

    Humpback whales range between 48 and 62.5 feet in length and can weigh up to 40 tons. As baleen whales, humpbacks' consume krill, plankton and small fish. The complex vocalizations of humpbacks are called songs and can last for hours, but the purpose of these sounds is unclear.

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  • Q:

    How do humpback whales protect themselves?

    A:

    The sheer size of a fully grown humpback whale dissuades all but the most aggressive sea predators from attacking them. In addition, whales typically swim in large groups called "pods" to protect smaller, weaker whales and youth. Mothers with calves swimming within a pod are accompanied by "escort" whales, which follow along slightly outside the pod to protect against aggression from competing humpback groups.

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  • Q:

    What are some facts about humpback whales?

    A:

    Humpback whales are characterized largely by their music, which are noises that range from moans and cries to howls. These songs, which can last up to 20 minutes, are a source of fascination for scientists, who believe that these songs attract mates.

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  • Q:

    What is being done to save the humpback whales?

    A:

    Some of the conservation efforts to save humpback whales include the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, the Pacific Offshore Cetacean Take Reduction Plan, the Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks project and the More North Atlantic Humpbacks project. In addition, safe boating practice education and humpback whale research and monitoring aid the effort to protect humpbacks.

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