What’s going on here?

Once thought to be almost extinct, the blue whale population is believed to be making a strong recovery and even suspected to be stabilising. A bank of audio recordings has demonstrated their resurgence.

What does this mean?

The blue whale, the largest animal to have ever existed, faced extinction towards the middle of the twentieth century due to commercial whaling. An international ban on hunting blue whales was introduced in the mid-1960s, however, hunting of the animals was continued by the Soviet Union beyond this time. The whales still face significant threats from ship strikes – when a large vessel collides with animals – as well as threats caused by the climate crisis including habitat loss and toxins. The blue whale population is now believed to be between 10,000-25,000, rising from approximately 2,000 at its lowest point. Despite the rise in population, the species is still classified as endangered by the The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Analysis collected by the Australian Antarctic Division and other international researchers has indicated that blue whale numbers are stable or on the rise. The new research has analysed two decades worth of audio recordings which feature the blue whales’ songs and calls. There has been a noticeable, growing regularity of these sounds across the Southern Ocean which suggests either that the population is increasing or that the ability to detect the animals is improving – both of which are positive outcomes. 

Why should we care?

The findings of the research on blue whale populations offer hope that conservation efforts are having positive outcomes. The scale of the international effort has demonstrated that species recovery can be possible, and shows how scientists can work together to learn more about endangered species populations. This is backed up by other research, which has shown that conservation is effective at reducing global biodiversity losses. Both research studies show that species population decline can be slowed or even reversed with the right interventions.

Be Curious!

  • Find out more about blue whale conservation strategies from WWF.
  • Read about how audio data is revealing population declines of birds in the Guardian.
  • Find out how you can contribute to whale related citizen science from the International Whaling Commission.

Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash