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Humpback Whales Recovering – 9 of 14 Population Segments Removed from Endangered Species List

Endangered humpback whales in nine of 14 newly identified distinct population segments have recovered enough that they don’t warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries said today. International conservation efforts to protect and conserve whales over the past 40 years proved successful for most populations. Four of the distinct population segments are still protected as endangered, and one is now listed as threatened.

Humpback whales off Maui

Humpback whales off Maui

Commercial whaling severely reduced humpback whale numbers from historical levels, and the United States listed all humpback whales as endangered in 1970.  NOAA Fisheries worked nationally and internationally to identify and apply protections for humpback whales. The International Whaling Commission’s whaling moratorium, imposed in 1982, played a major role in the comeback of humpback whales, and remains in effect.

“Today’s news is a true ecological success story,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Whales, including the humpback, serve an important role in our marine environment. Separately managing humpback whale populations that are largely independent of each other allows us to tailor conservation approaches for each population.”

Humpbacks removedTwo of the four populations that remain endangered are found in U.S. waters at certain times of the year. The Central America population feeds off the West Coast, while the Western North Pacific population does so in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The Mexico population – listed as threatened – also feeds off the West Coast of the United States and Alaska.

Two separate, complementary regulations filed today maintain protections for whales in waters off Hawaii and Alaska by specifying distance limits for approaching vessels. All humpback whales remain protected in U.S. waters and on the high seas under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, regardless of their ESA status.

B-Roll: Humpback Whales and Behavior from NOAA Fisheries on Vimeo.

Dolphins “Surf” on Humpback Whales Off of Kauai

Many species interact in the wild, most often as predator and prey. But recent encounters between humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins reveal a playful side to interspecies interaction.

In two different locations in Hawaii, scientists watched as dolphins “rode” the heads of whales: the whales lifted the dolphins up and out of the water, and then the dolphins slid back down. The two species seemed to cooperate in the activity, and neither displayed signs of aggression or distress.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/lC3AkGSigrA]

Whales and dolphins in Hawaiian waters often interact, but playful social activity such as this is extremely rare between species.

DLNR Statement on Yesterdays Whales in Honolulu Harbor

A pair of humpback whales, likely a mother and its yearling, entered Honolulu Harbor yesterday and spent time within the harbor near Pier 35, and later Pier 29, moved out of the harbor this afternoon and were headed out to sea by 1:45 p.m. yesterday. Earlier reports called these two animals a mother and calf.

Whales spotted in Honolulu Harbor Yesterday

DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) sent a patrol boat with two officers about 11 a.m. to Honolulu harbor to continue to maintain a safety zone around the whales. They relieved Coast Guard officials who had been monitoring the whales since the morning.

There were reports of four additional whales early in the morning near Pier 2, but these could not be confirmed.

DLNR reminds boaters that the months of November through May are humpback season in Hawaii, and reminds boaters to be alert and watch for whales in Hawaii waters to avoid whale strikes. Vessel operators and other ocean users are required to stay at least 100 yards away from them at all times. Humpback whales are an endangered species and are protected by State and Federal laws.

“We are grateful for the coordinated efforts of DOCARE, the Coast Guard, Honolulu Harbor Marine Traffic Control, and NOAA, who together ensured the safety of both the whales and boaters today,” said Elia Herman, State Co-Manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. “We also appreciate the efforts of ocean users who first sighted and reported the animals in the Harbor.”

To report a marine mammal in trouble (injured, stranded, or entangled whale, dolphin or seal) please call the NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline: 1-888-256-9840 or the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) statewide hotline: 643-DLNR (3567).

Please report immediately and keep your distance, for your safety. Injured, sick or entangled animals can be unpredictable and dangerous.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which is jointly managed by the State of Hawai‘i and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lies within the shallow warm waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands and constitutes one of the world’s most important humpback whale habitats.

The Oceania Project: Hawaii Researchers “…Humpback Sounds are Equivalent to Human Languages”

We are working on several papers related to whale ‘language’. The term ‘language’ in relation to Humpback Whales is not yet accepted by the scientific community so we are careful about using it. Although we firmly believe that whales of all species have highly evolved languages.

Three researchers in Hawaii, two computer engineers and a marine biologist, have created a computer application to asses the entropy of whale sounds (loss of energy from a system in this case sound frequency) and have compared them to a range of human languages. They have concluded that Humpback sounds are equivalent to human languages. They used the recordings of Dr. Roger and Katy Payne, made in the 1970s, who were the first scientists to recognize that the unique sounds made by Humpback Whales were in fact conscious, complex evolving songs

A Polar Whales Appeal:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZUehRXulIA&hl=en&fs=1]
Check out the Oceania Project for more whale videos and sounds.

UH Hilo Professor “Size Does Matter” – Male Whales Like ‘Em Large

A new study has found that male humpback whales favor the largest females. Female humpback whales are usually larger than males to begin with, measuring up to around 50 feet long and weighing approximately 79,000 pounds. ”While obesity is understandably a serious problem in humans, it is interesting to find that in some of the largest animals ever to exist, bigger is indeed better. Thus size does matter!” lead author Adam Pack, an assistant professor of psychology and biology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, told Discovery News. Pack, who is also the co-founder and vice president of The Dolphin Institute, and his research team made the determination after studying courting humpback whales for five consecutive years in the waters of the Auau, Kalohi and Pailolo channels off West Maui.  In winter and spring months, the whales assemble on shallow banks and along coastal areas for breeding and calving.  Since females produce a single calf every two to three years on average, and not all females migrate to breeding grounds, males usually far outnumber females at the sites. Interested males serve as “escorts” for their female of choice, swimming in close proximity to her and, if present, her calf.  The males all gravitated to the largest females, sometimes engaging in dangerous fights to win and maintain the coveted escort position…

More here