|Positive recovery for humpbacks
Scientists using genetic analysis to estimate the pre-whaling population of North Atlantic humpback whales recently reported that although these whales have recovered from years of whaling, a precise pre-whaling number estimate is key to defining that recovery.
It is estimated humpbacks existed in numbers of more than 100,000, a figure lower than previously calculated but still two to three times higher than pre-whaling estimates based on catch data from whaling records. Researchers are confident that humpback whales in the North Atlantic have significantly recovered from commercial whaling over the past several decades of protection, but without an accurate size estimate of the pre-whaling population, the threshold of recovery remains unknown. However they now have a solid, genetically generated estimate upon which future work on this important issue can be based and although the scientists have spent a great deal of effort refining the techniques and approaches that gives them the pre-whaling number, they commented its worth the trouble because genetic tools give one of the only glimpses into the past they have for whales.
Humpbacks were hunted for centuries by commercial whaling fleets in all the world's oceans, with their numbers in the North Atlantic eventually being reduced to just hundreds before whaling bans went into effect.