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Stanford Report, August 6, 2003

Genetics study reveals that historic whale populations were much larger than previous estimates

Historic populations of humpback, fin and minke whales were much greater than previous estimates, says geneticist Stephen R. Palumbi, professor of biological sciences at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. Using DNA analysis, Palumbi and Harvard University researcher Joe Roman found that, before being decimated by 19th-century commercial whaling, humpback whales in the North Atlantic Ocean numbered about 250,000 -- more than 10 times larger than previous estimates based on historic whaling records. The worldwide population of humpbacks may have been as high as 1.5 million, according to Palumbi. The International Whaling Commission has called for a moratorium on commercial whaling until current populations reach 54 percent of their historic numbers.

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