2017 – officially the Worst Year Ever, if social media is to be believed – was leavened a little recently after the giant panda was officially declared no longer endangered and had been declassified to “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Now a similar fate has befallen the humpback whale. In many areas of the world, humpbacks have been hunted to the point of extinction, but a resurgence in population has seen most humpback populations removed from American organisation the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) list of endangered species.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – a branch of the NOAA – confirmed on Monday that nine of the 14 populations of humpbacks found worldwide had been removed from the list. However, four remain listed as endangered, the remaining population as threatened.

The humpback has enjoyed U.S. governmental protection since the introduction of the Endangered Species Act in 1970. The animal has also benefited from an international ban on commercial whaling introduced in 1982.

“Today’s news is a true ecological success story”, said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Whales, including the humpback, serve an important role in our marine environment.”

Although this means the nine downgraded humpback populations will no longer receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, the NOAA insisted that very little would change in terms of efforts to protect the humpback, despite its situation looking less perilous than it did 40 years ago.

“Many of the day-to-day protections and activities will continue to occur,” said Angela Somma, chief of NOAA Fisheries’ endangered species division, in a call to reporters on Tuesday. “We will continue to work and maintain their conservation.”

The remaining five species – the four endangered and one threatened – will continue to be protected under the act.