Are humpbacks still endangered?

Are humpbacks still endangered?

When I worked on B.C.’s Central Coast in the summer of 2000, seeing a humpback whale was a rare treat. They’re huge, but far more acrobatic than their grey whale cousins we were studying. The good news is: seeing a humpback whale in the North Pacific isn’t as rare anymore. They’re considered threatened in Canada, and for as long as the U.S. has had an endangered species list (since 1973) the humpback has been on it. But that could soon change, in the U.S. at least. This week, NOAA announced it’s reviewing the humpback’s status. A recent international study puts the North Pacific population estimate at almost 20,000, up from a low of less than 2,000 animals. While humpback numbers are now growing steadily, the population is still just one-fifth of the pre-whaling size, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. good, but good enough? “It’s been such a gift to watch them come back,” Jackie Hildering told me this week. She’s a naturalist with Stubbs Island Whale Watching in Telegraph Cove, and remembers in 2002 when humpback sightings were uncommon in the Broughton Archipelago. This year, she identified 47 individuals. She laughs in wonder as she recalled to me juvenile humpbacks energetically slapping their tails on the water. But Hildering worries what a loss of protection could mean for the whales, given that status can help drive research funding. “There’s just so much we don’t understand about these animals,” she said. Dr. Jay Barlow, one of NOAA’s own lead scientists studying humpbacks, told me he agrees are still many unknowns — especially when it comes to climate change. For example,...

The dirt on clean: avoiding antibacterials

With all the talk about swine flu and handwashing, I decided to take questions from parents to an expert in public health, Dr. Bonnie Henry with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. (CBC story here). Dr. Henry just published a book on preventing disease spread, called Soap and Water & Common Sense, and has been on the front lines of media-messaging around the swine flu virus. The piece of advice that’s yielded the most discussion online, and in our newsroom, is about avoiding antibacterial soaps with ingredients like triclosan. As Dr. Henry noted, they can lead to drug-resistant strains, and do nothing against viruses like the flu. Pros and Antis I’ve seen two camps of reaction: people who are surprised antibacterials are considered harmful, and people who have known that for years and are surprised anyone is surprised. (As a recent post on yoyomama notes, triclosan was one of the chemicals the authors of Slow Death By Rubber Duck loaded their systems with.) Dr. Bonnie Henry says ad campaigns are adding to confusion: People think that having ‘antibacterial’ on it means it’s more healthful and it’s going to protect myself and my family. And they honestly believe that because of the advertising. When in reality it may cause harm, and it’s certainly not needed.” I’m happy to hear a prominent health official talk about this. I’ve long avoided antibacterials, not because I’d researched them carefully, but because past biology-student roommates had ranted about their damaging effects on the environment. It was an easy decision because I’m not remotely germophobic. But it’s nice to see what’s good for human and...