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Oceania humpback whales listed as Endangered

South Pacific Whale Research Consortium

13 August 2008

Oceania humpback whales listed as Endangered

New threat listings released yesterday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) bring mixed news for humpback whales.

In the new threat listings of cetaceans worldwide the status of humpback whales has moved from “Threatened” to “Least concern”. This good news means they are now at low risk of extinction. However, the news for the Arabian Sea and Oceania Humpback whale sub-populations is not so rosy; their populations have been classified as “Endangered”.

“We welcome the listing of Oceania humpbacks as endangered” says Dr Simon Childerhouse of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, “ongoing work by researchers from the Consortium across the South Pacific has demonstrated that while whales in some areas are showing good signs of recovery from whaling, others remain at extremely low levels and still require protection”.

Of particular interest to New Zealanders is the Oceania Humpback whale sub-population. These whales are found around Eastern Australia and the South Pacific, including those that migrate past New Zealand every year.

Dr Childerhouse adds “There has been a lack of recovery of humpbacks in places such as Fiji, Norfolk Island, and New Caledonia with only a very slow recovery in New Zealand. Despite more than 40 years of protection, whales in these areas have not recovered from the commercial and illegal whaling that nearly lead to their extinction. Overall, it’s estimated that humpbacks in Oceania today, are less than 20% of the numbers there were 60 years ago. There’s no room for complacency here.”

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The research that lead to new listing of endangered for Oceania humpbacks came from a collaborative research programme by scientists of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium. The Consortium represents more than 30 scientists from over 10 countries across the South Pacific.

Dr. Childerhouse noted that “without the dedication, commitment and collaborative spirit of these scientists, Oceania humpbacks would have been listed as “Least Concern” rather than the “Endangered” status that they deserve. Furthermore, all of this work was undertaken using non-lethal research techniques, unlike the Japanese scientific research programme, which states that it needs to kill whales to study them.

The Japanese scientific whaling programme in the Antarctic has stated that it plans to kill 50 humpbacks in the waters south of New Zealand and Australia. While they did not kill humpbacks last summer as they originally planned, they are likely to do so this coming summer.

“If the Japanese continue with their stated objective to kill 50 humpback whales, they are likely to be killing whales from the Endangered Oceania population. This is both unacceptable and unnecessary as almost all of the information that the Japanese say they need can be collected using non-lethal techniques” stressed Dr Childerhouse. We commend the New Zealand Governments strong position against whaling and highlight that the recent endangered listing demonstrates that Oceania humpback whale still require protection and conservation.


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