(TMU) — After coming dangerously close to the brink of extinction, the humpback whale population in the South Atlantic Ocean has made a stunning rebound, according to scientists.
Around 60 years ago, it was estimated that the western South Atlantic (WSA) humpback whale population had been thinned out to less than 500.
However, a new study published in Royal Society Open Science reveals that the WSA humpbacks, which were “the first major target of commercial whaling in the Antarctic,” now have a population of roughly 24,900 individuals—a breathtaking turnaround for a population that had come remarkably close to disappearing from the world.
Between the late 1700s and mid-1900s, some 300,000 humpback whales were killed by hunters, according to Smithsonian. By 1958, only 440 WSA humpbacks were left.
However, strong protections were put in place in the 1960s, including a worldwide moratorium that drastically curtailed whaling activities. These combined efforts allowed the whales to recover by an estimated 25,000—nearly as many as researcher believe there were prior to the dawn of large-scale commercial whaling.
Even the researchers were stunned by the strength of the population’s resurgence, which they believe could be a model for the recovery of other species threatened by human activities.
Marine biologist Alexandre Zerbini of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is lead author on a study of the whales’ recovery, told USA Today:
“I hope it serves as an example that we can do the same thing for other animal populations.”
In 2006, a global survey by the International Whaling Commission found that the western South Atlantic humpbacks’ population had only recovered by 30 percent—proof, marine biologists believed, that the whale was unlikely to recover from the massive slaughter that took place over the course of centuries.
Only now have scientists realized how wrong they were. Zerbini said:
“I expected the recovery to be higher than we’d estimated in 2006 … but I wasn’t expecting the almost full recovery we found.”
And the WSA humpbacks aren’t alone in bouncing back from endangerment. In 2016, NOAA released data showing that nine out of the 14 known populations of humpback whales have also recovered from historically low numbers. Yet while the southern populations have certainly fared well, none have made the type of recovery as was made by the western South Atlantic humpbacks.
In the Royal Society study, the authors noted that barring new threats from humans, the whale populations should reach pre-hunting levels. They wrote:
“The population status is much more optimistic than previously thought and abundance should reach its pre-exploitation level within the next 10 years or so, assuming mortality from anthropogenic threats remains low.”
However, it remains far too soon to celebrate the recovery of the whales. The ongoing climate catastrophe continues to manifest itself in myriad unpredictable ways, ranging from record-breaking Arctic heat to massive heat waves and resulting algae blooms that have devastated food sources for whales.
Indeed, the world remains in the throes of what scientists have dubbed the Anthropocene—the first truly human-caused geological period in the Earth’s history that has also entailed the mass extinctions of plants and animals alike.
However, the recovery of the WSA humpback whale shows how humans can also influence the planet for the better.
“This is a clear example that if we do the right thing then the population will recover.”
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years
Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.
Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.
The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.
Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.
It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.
“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”
Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.
Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.
“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.
“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”
Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.
“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.
Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.
“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”
In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.
Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.
A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.