A humpback whale. Courtesy NOAA

The majestic humpback whale, often seen in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego, is no longer an endangered species in most parts of the world.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday the whales have made a dramatic comeback since the end of commercial whaling with increasing numbers and growth rates. The whales were first listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1970.

NOAA plans to reclassify the humpback whales into 14 populations, with two of those threatened and two endangered.

“The return of the iconic humpback whale is an ESA success story,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “As we learn more about the species — and realize the populations are largely independent of each other — managing them separately allows us to focus protection on the animals that need it the most.”

The two populations proposed as threatened — in the Pacific off Central America and the Western North Pacific — at times enter U.S. waters. Two other populations that do not enter U.S. waters — in the Arabian Sea and off Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa — would remain listed as endangered.

NOAA Fisheries is opening up a 90-day public comment period for the proposed changes.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.