In just a few days, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will receive comments from the public on NMFS’s proposal to remove humpback whales from protections under the Endangered Species Act. WDC has been campaigning to keep these whales (specifically the North Atlantic Humpback population) listed as endangered species because they have not yet fully recovered due to a combination of threats from human activity.
There is a growing body of research that shows whales are sentient beings who have cultures and individual personalities. Last week, staff and interns from WDC’s North American office were fortunate to spend a day on the water with these endangered creatures, some of whom were clearly displaying evidence of culture and personality while feeding. Kick feeding is a behavior ONLY documented in whales in the North Atlantic, however not all whales in the region utilize this technique. This shows that it is a behavior passed directly from individual to individual. It could also be considered a more “modern” technique, as it seems to be more common among younger individuals.
Below you can see Banyan, a member of the Gulf of Maine population, demonstrating this very behavior. He has a particular method to his kick feeding, where he always slaps his tail twice on the surface before going below to corral prey by blowing bubbles and surfacing with mouth wide open to scoop up the fish.
We later came across a humpback whale named Drip, who had a very different style of feeding. The next video shows Drip in action. For over an hour, we watched her catch a mouthful of fish, roll over slowly onto her back and lay there for a short time at the surface before rolling back and repeating the process all over again.
You could ask any humpback whale researcher in the Gulf of Maine to tell you about their whale watching experience and they will tell you stories about individuals they’ve seen over the years and how their personalities emerged, either through unique behaviors or associations with other individual whales.
WDC believes that humpback whales, like Banyan and Drip, should remain on the Endangered Species List so that they can pass their unique behaviors and culture on to future generations. While they are no longer threatened by commercial whaling, they face a number of other man-made threats globally. Since April of this year, six humpback whales in the North Atlantic alone have been documented entangled in fishing gear.
Please help us tell NMFS that humpback whales should remain protected by signing our petition. Be sure to follow WDC for all the latest updates as we continue to fight for their safety throughout this process. We need to learn a lot more information before we can say whether or not humpbacks have recovered enough to be removed from endangered status.