Celebrate the Comeback of Humpbacks With These Fabulous Photos

Forty years after they were near the brink of extinction, most populations of humpback whales have been removed from the endangered species list.

Humpback whales continue to surprise scientists, who see increasing evidence that the large aquatic mammals are capable of sophisticated thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and communication. There are hundreds of incidents where they appear to be protecting other animals from killer whale attacks.

And now, efforts to protect humpbacks from their most fearsome predator—human beings—are having an impact. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that most populations of humpback whales, which had been on the brink of extinction, are being removed from the endangered species list.

The announcement, described by NOAA as a “true ecological success story,” comes after 40 years of federal protection that have allowed the whales’ numbers to rebound.

Still, four of the 14 distinct population segments remain on the endangered list, and one—the Mexican whales that feed along the California coast in the fall and summer—is still designated as threatened. The Center for Biological Diversity has urged the U.S. government to “address the huge increase in whales getting tangled up in fishing gear along the West Coast.”

In celebration of this historic announcement—and as a reminder of how much we still stand to lose—National Geographic presents this gallery of our favorite humpback whale photos.