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South Atlantic Humpback Whale Population Rebounds After Nearly Going Extinct

Kelli Bender

North Atlantic right whale numbers are crashing, but there’s a new paper out that provides a beacon of hope.

Assessing the Recovery of Antarctic Predator from Historical Exploitation,” recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, details an inspiring increase in the western South Atlantic Humpback whale population in the Southern Ocean – also known as the Antarctic Ocean.

According to the paper, the whales were once decimated by commercial whaling and other factors, leaving their over all population at 450 whales in the 1950s. Thanks in part to a moratorium on commercial whaling, the numbers of these whales have rebounded over the years.

There are now an estimated 25,000 western South Atlantic humpback whales today. The population has recovered to about 90% of its historic population.

RELATED: Ninth North Atlantic Right Whale Found Dead This Year, Strengthening Extinction Concerns

“It’s a positive story,” the lead author of the paper, Dr Alex Zerbini of the National Marine Fisheries Service — part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — told the BBC.

L. Candisani/Courtesy Instituto Aqualie

Experts hope to keep the story positive by protecting the factors that are helping these animals rebound to healthy population numbers.

“The recovery of humpback whales in the western South Atlantic has the potential to modify the structure of the ecosystem in their feeding habitats around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. For this reason, it is important to continue monitoring abundance and potential shifts in distribution to understand how krill and their predators, including whales, will respond to effects from climate change and whether these effects will impact their populations,” Zerbini said in a statement.

L. Candisani/Courtesy Instituto Aqualie

To ensure that the western South Atlantic whales continue to thrive and that the regrowth of this population doesn’t negatively impact other animals that depend on the same resources as the whales, conservationists are calling for protections that will look out for the whales and other creatures on the whales’ migratory path.

RELATED: Southern Resident Killer Whale Population Drops to 73 as 3 Orcas Are Presumed Dead

“A ban on industrial krill fishing around the South Sandwich Islands, through the designation of a fully protected area, would continue to support the recovery of the humpbacks for decades to come, by protecting their food, whilst at the same time strengthening the waters resilience to the impacts of climate change,” Johnny Briggs, senior officer for Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy, said in a statement.

This rebound is welcomed news, especially when other whale populations, like the North Atlantic right whale and the Southern Resident killer whale, are suffering devastating losses.