In the late 1920s, humpback whales in the southwest Atlantic became so rare that whaling ships could only find and catch a few dozen individuals per year. It was estimated that some 27,000 humpbacks frequented the southwest Atlantic at the start of the 20th century, but due to intensive commercial whaling, those numbers dwindled to just a few hundred within 30 years’ time.
It would take a while till full-scale moratoriums would come into place in the 1960s, but, by then, whalers were already aware that too much hunting would lead to the extinction of these gentle giants. Although humpback whale populations were said to be recovering in the 1970s, it wasn’t until the start of the 2000s that conservationists started realizing just how well they were recovering.
Flash forward to 2019, and surveys show there are now just short of 25,000 individuals in the southwest Atlantic – more than 90% of the pre-exploitation level. The astounding comeback from the brink of extinction gives us all the more reason to support a proposed marine sanctuary for humpbacks in the Pacific Ocean—something that we wrote about earlier this week.