What’s Going On Here?
The critically endangered blue whales have made a return to the island of South Georgia off Antarctica nearly 100 years since it was brought to the edge of extinction from commercial whaling.
What Does This Mean?
Between 1998 and 2018 only one sighting of a blue whale had been made in the South Georgia area. But in February 2020, a research team led by the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) documented 58 blue whale sightings and numerous acoustic recordings.
‘We were favourably surprised by quite how many [blue whales] we did see this year’, said lead author marine mammal ecologist Susannah Calderan, who used ex-military sonobuoys to pick up the sound of whales.
Why Should We Care?
More than 42000 blue whales were killed around South Georgia between 1904 and 1971, and by the end of whaling only 0.15% of blue whale populations remained. Sightings of blue whales were so rare in Southern waters that it was believed that they would soon be extinct. Their absence in the Antarctic was held as an example of how a population can be exploited beyond the point where it can recover.
However, the resurgence of the critically endangered blue whale off South Georgia, is a rare example of an ecosystem in recovery and proves that wildlife protections work.
Blue whales play a key role in the southern ocean ecosystem and scientists are optimistic about the recent discovery in Antarctica. The next steps are to decipher why the whales have begun to use the feeding territory again.
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