By Rishi Iyengar
September 8, 2014

California’s endangered blue-whale population may not be so endangered after all, according to a study released Friday.

New research published in the journal Marine Mammal Science found the state’s current population of the aquatic mammal is nearly as high as before the practice of whaling became popular.

“It’s a conservation success story,” said Cole Monnahan, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Washington, in a statement.

The International Whaling Commission banned the hunting of blue whales for commercial purposes in 1966, after which whaling has only been carried out illegally. Other causes of death also include pollution, shipping and getting accidentally caught up in other fishing.

Blue whales are the world’s largest known animals, growing to nearly 100 ft. in length and weighing over 200 lb.

The study’s revelations concern California’s blue-whale population rather than the total number in the North Pacific, which has been known to be about 2,200 for some time now, although researchers did find that previous estimates of the pre-whaling population might have been inaccurate.

Scientists always assumed the pre-whaling population was much larger, but the authors of Friday’s study estimate the current population is up to 97% of historical figures. They arrived at this conclusion by using historical data to estimate the number of whales caught between 1905 and 1971.

“Our findings aren’t meant to deprive California blue whales of protections that they need going forward,” Monnahan added. “California blue whales are recovering because we took actions to stop catches and start monitoring. If we hadn’t, the population might have been pushed to near extinction — an unfortunate fate suffered by other blue-whale populations.”

The one problem the massive marine mammals still face is being hit by ships, with at least 11 blue whales being struck off the West Coast last year. But Monnahan and his co-authors say this won’t affect the population’s stability.

Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com.

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