Feds mull Alaska’s petition to delist humpbacks
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A petition filed by the state of Alaska to remove some North Pacific humpback whales from protection under the Endangered Species Act merits a closer look, federal officials said Wednesday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the petition to delist the central North Pacific whales presents substantial scientific backing that such action may be warranted. That population, estimated at more than 5,800, feeds in Alaska in the summer and breeds in Hawaii in winter.
As a result of a 90-day finding, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service will consider the petition as it reviews the status of the humpback population globally, a process that began in 2009. NOAA also is considering a petition filed last year by a Hawaii fishing association to delist the entire North Pacific humpback population, estimated at about 20,000.
That petition also received a positive finding. But neither petition is a done deal, NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said.
“This is just a first step in a process,” she said. “It doesn’t prejudge the outcome of the status review.”
Humpbacks were listed as endangered in 1970, four years after the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling. The whales have rebounded in the North Pacific since the listing, which requires federal approval for federally funded or authorized activities that could harm whales or their habitat.
Alaska officials said that given the recovery of the humpbacks here, the law represents an unnecessary regulatory burden on industries including oil and fishing. Doug Vincent-Lang said adequate protections, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, remain in place to ensure conservation of the whales.
“Simply put, the threat of extinction for this stock of humpback whales is gone, and it should be removed from the Endangered Species Act,” Vincent-Lang said.
Environmental groups have said North Pacific whales continue to be vulnerable to factors including increased shipping, climate change and ocean acidification, which affects the prey stock. Those threats should also be considered, said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“I think that the increase in the number of humpback whales that we’ve seen shows that the Endangered Species Act is working,” she said. “But NOAA should be cautious in its review because the whales do continue to face threats.”
A public comment period on the Alaska petition ends July 28.
The fisheries service generally has 12 months to respond to the petition from the time of the finding “to the extent practicable,” Speegle said. She said the intent is to announce the conclusions of the global status review and the two petitions at once. No deadline has been set for the review.
Rules for posting comments
Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum.
Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content but the newspaper is under no obligation to do so. Comment posters are solely responsible under the Communications Decency Act for comments posted on this Web site. Stephens Media LLC is not liable for messages from third parties.
IP and email addresses of persons who post are not treated as confidential records and will be disclosed in response to valid legal process.
Do not post:
- Potentially libelous statements or damaging innuendo.
- Obscene, explicit, or racist language.
- Copyrighted materials of any sort without the express permission of the copyright holder.
- Personal attacks, insults or threats.
- The use of another person's real name to disguise your identity.
- Comments unrelated to the story.
If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon below the comment.