There’s a little more traffic in Humpback Whale Land, according to scientists who recently published a report in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
Back in 2008, scientists estimated about less than 20,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific; now, a new report indicates that the leviathan population to be more than 21,000 – or maybe even higher.
Billed as one of the largest surveys ever done to determine the humpback whale population in the NP, the original study (titled ‘Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks’ with the clever acronym “SPLASH”) took three years and involved scientists from different countries.
So, how does one “count” whales?
It all comes down to photographs, which scientists carefully used to determine unique fluke patterns to id specific whales. They matched whale pix taken in the northern feeding ground and compared them to photos of whales basking 3,000 miles away in the warm tropical waters – voila! – about as accurate estimation as you can get.
In a prepared statement, Dr. Jay Barlow, a researcher at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California says: “These improved numbers are encouraging… We feel the numbers may even be larger since there have been across-the-board increases in known population areas and unknown areas have probably seen the same increases.”
Natch, the report stresses that there are still plenty of threats to the humpies – marine pollution, climate change, etc. – but after mankind nearly decimated the species with commercial whaling in the 20th century (when there were a mere 1,400 individuals hanging on in 1966), this is indeed a fluke in the right direction.
Photo by Whit Welles