Prior to commercial whaling, far more whales thrived in the North Atlantic than previously thought, according to a study published in today’s issue of Science. Earlier studies estimated historical whale populations by combing through logbooks from old whaling ships; the current study was the first to look instead at telltale genetic variations that increase as the population of a species grows. Based on that tool, the scientists calculated that 240,000 humpback, 360,000 fin, and 265,000 minke whales lived in the North Atlantic prior to commercial whaling. Those numbers are making waves among advocates of the logbook-based research and those who look forward to resuming commercial whaling. The ban on such whaling, in place since 1986, is supposed to remain in effect until whale species have recovered to 54 percent of their pre-whaling numbers. Using the logbook calculations, whaling could restart within the next several years; using the new figures, the prohibition would likely remain in place for another 50 to 100 years.