While this week marks the 50th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode on television, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the fourth Star Trek film – The Voyage Home. The shorthand for this film is ‘the one with the whales.’ Kirk and company travel back to Earth and find it suffering from the emanations of a probe seeking to talk to humpback whales. In the history of Star Trek, that species of whale went extinct in the 21st century, so a time travel adventure ensues.
While we still have some time to screw things up for the humpback whales, things seem to be headed in a better direction. The U.S. government has removed most of the humpback whale species from the endangered species list (H/T ScienceInsider). NOAA Fisheries listed the species as endangered in 1970, and the International Whaling Commission has protected the species since the 1960s.
As part of a reconception of how to protect the species, NOAA Fisheries has identified 14 distinct populations of humpback whales. Of those 14 populations, it considers 9 of them to have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the endangered list. Four of the populations remain endangered and one is considered threatened. FWIW, the whales in the film were in captivity, but were released in a part of the oceans where some of the populations that feed remain threatened or endangered.
Can we continue on this trend for at least the rest of the century? I sure hope so. As much as I’d like us to be as far along in space as the 21st century history of Star Trek suggests we are, I’m happy to have avoided various wars and at least one extinction. May the humpbacks continue to live long and prosper.