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Nature's Biggest Comebacks

Gray Whale

Our scientists have chosen the top 10 comeback stories in nature. These are the places, ecosystems and species that have been brought back from the brink of disaster. See what made the cut from the last century — and what we hope will be on our list in the next.

Gray Whale

Gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any animal — more than 12,000 miles from their winter breeding grounds in Baja, Calif., to their summer feeding grounds near Alaska. But in the 19th century, that tradition was about to end as gray whales were hunted to near extinction.

The International Whaling Commission, established by whaling nations in 1946, granted protection to gray whales from commercial hunting in 1949 and adopted a moratorium on all commercial whaling in 1986. Since then, gray whale numbers have rebounded to an estimated 22,000 animals. While they are not back to their estimated population high of more than 75,000, the international convention that led to their recovery is a significant accomplishment.

“Collaboration raises the bar of what conservation can accomplish,” says Conservancy senior marine scientist Mark Spalding. “Countries working together can learn from one another’s experiences, pool resources and minimize the chances that their efforts will be undermined.”

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