In attempt to determine whether the humpback whales still need to be saved, the government is reviewing the marine mammals' place on the endangered species list for the first time in a decade. The results look promising: “They appear to be coming back pretty strongly in most of the places we are studying,” a marine biologist tells the Wall Street Journal. Scientists believed more than 60,000 humpbacks are out there, up from less than 5,000 in the 1960s.
But changing the whales’ regulatory status is a big step that depends on exhaustive research; the Marine Fisheries Service will review blubber biopsies, maternal DNA, and more. Some conservationists are hoping to switch from protecting the whales globally to a population-by-population approach, which could focus research on areas of need. Others think that’ll be problematic. “Where do you draw the line?” asks one. “What do you call a population?”