Support for a Central North Pacific humpback whale DPS and delisting

August 26, 2014

National Marine Fisheries Service – Alaska Region
Jon Kurland, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources
Attn: Ellen Sabastian
P.O. Box 21668
Juneau, AK 99802-1668


Dear Mr. Kurland,

The Resource Development Council (RDC) is writing to comment on the petition to identify the Central North Pacific population of humpback whales as a distinct population segment (DPS) and delist the DPS under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

RDC is a statewide, non-profit, membership-funded organization founded in 1975. The RDC membership is comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism, and fisheries industries, as well as Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to link these diverse interests together to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC supports the State of Alaska’s petition and urges the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to classify the Central North Pacific stock of humpback whale as a DPS and remove the Central North Pacific DPS from the list of endangered species under the ESA. The Central North Pacific stock of humpback whales has been the most extensively studied stock in U.S. waters. According to best available science, sufficient evidence exists to demonstrate that all criteria for DPS classification has been met.

The Central North Pacific stock is discrete by being markedly separate from other populations based on physical, behavioral, and management factors. Further, the stock is significant to the species genetically, and because loss of this stock would result in a significant gap in the range of the species.

Beyond the overwhelming evidence that the Central North Pacific stock should be classified as a DPS, RDC also encourages the stock be delisted under the ESA.

NMFS may delist a species after reviewing one or a combination of these five factors:

  • The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range;
  • Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • Disease or predation; The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or,
  • Other natural or manmade factor affecting its continued existence.

As outlined by the State of Alaska’s petition (February 26, 2014), the analysis of the statutory factors indicates that delisting of the DPS is warranted.

The termination of commercial whaling was paramount in the recovery of the humpback whale populations, including the Central North Pacific stock. The population has seen consistent annual rates of increase of 7% and in the Central North Pacific stock alone has gone from an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 whales in 1993, to an estimated 10,103 whales in 2006. The current population estimate is more than 15 times the post-commercial whaling population size and its numbers are meeting or exceeding estimated historical levels.

Further, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Act provide ample protections for the humpback whales and their habitat, including prey populations. Delisting the healthy and abundant Central North Pacific stock that has met the Recovery Plan removes unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Finally, RDC would like to stress that despite coastal development in both Alaska and Hawaii, including offshore oil and gas activity, the Central North Pacific population of humpback whales has been consistently increasing since 1979. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation regulates wastewater discharge from municipal systems, cruise ships, engineering and mining operations, industrial operations, seafood processing facilities, and stormwater pollution. The regulations and standards protect the water quality for a variety of uses, including growth and reproduction of marine life.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.