Known to be the longest migratory mammals on the planet and some of the ocean’s most remarkable singers, the humpback whale is probably the world’s most recognizable whale. It turns out, however, that the mammal is also one of the best instances of successful conservation efforts. Many humpback whale populations, previously devastated by commercial whaling, are making a comeback.
A turning of the tides
A recent study on humpbacks that breed off the coast of Brazil and call Antarctic waters home during the summer has shown that these whales can now be found in the sort of numbers seen before the days of whaling.
Records suggest that in the 1830s there were around 27,000 whales cruising the world’s oceans, but due to commercial hunting, by the mid-1950s only 450 remained, pushing the humpback whale to the dangerous risk of extinction.
Thanks to the ban of commercial whaling in 1986, however, the magnificent creatures enjoyed a strong recovery, with their population now estimated to be around 93% of its original size. By taking away the threat of hunting, and having safe spaces to survive and thrive, humpback numbers in many areas have recovered.
And while this is great news for the whales, it is also great news for the climate. Keeping carbon out of the atmosphere is key to tackling the climate crisis and the contribution that a single whale can make is extraordinary. On average a single whale stores around 33 tons of CO2. If we consider only the Antarctic humpback whales that breed in Brazil, protecting this population alone has resulted in 813,780 tons of CO2 being stored in the deep sea.
The incredible recovery of the humpback whale is also an example of what can happen when governments come together to protect our global oceans. The moratorium on whaling was followed by the creation of “whale sanctuaries” and regulation on trade in endangered species. We have the tools and science. What’s left is the political will to create the spaces to allow wildlife to recover.