Good news for humpback whales

In the Northern Pacific, endangered humpback whales have enjoyed a dramatic population increase, climbing from less than 1,500 in 1966 (when whaling was outlawed internationally) to more than 18,000 today. The good news was released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Humpback whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and worldwide are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Over-hunting nearly drove humpbacks to extinction, killing off 90% of their historic population.

Of course, some people fear that this increase in population will lead to an increase in hunting, and the removal of the humpback from the Endangered Species List. In fact, the NOAA study was intended to come up with hard data to decide if the species should be downlisted to "threatened" status, which would offer it fewer protections.

Humpbacks aren't doing quite as well everywhere. The population in the Southern hemisphere is still just 40% of pre-hunting levels, and some Pacific populations aren't doing as well as their cousins in the North.

We'll no doubt see future debates over whether or not the humpback will keep its protected status, but for now, let's just celebrate a rare conservation victory.