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Activists: 'Premature' to loosen protections for humpback whales

Activists: 'Premature' to loosen protections for humpback whales
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An animal rights advocacy group says it is “premature” to remove humpback whales from the endangered species list.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed Monday to loosen the protections for certain populations of humpback whales. But animal rights activists warn that doing so could put the whales in grave danger.

The Center for Biological Diversity is urging the federal government to stay the course and continue protecting all humpback whales.

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“The fact that we can spot humpback whales breaching and playing in the ocean after they were nearly extinct shows the tremendous power of the Endangered Species Act,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Those safeguards should stay in place for these extraordinary animals."

The NMFS has long protected humpback whales by listing them on the endangered species list. While some humpback whales would continue to be listed, the agency is proposing to either delist other humpback whale populations altogether or downgrade them to the threatened species list. 

The NMFS has identified 14 distinct populations of humpback whales. Of those, the agency is proposing to delist the humpback whale populations in the West Indies, Hawaii, Mexico and Brazil, and some in Australia and Africa.

“It’s heartening to see that some humpback whales are recovering, but it’s premature to remove protections when so many threats, like climate change and ocean noise, are increasing,” Sakashita, said.

“Since commercial whaling ended, humpbacks have enjoyed protection, but they’re still drowning in fishing gear and getting hit by ships,” Sakashita said.