October 5, 2023

Study: Antarctic fin whale population recovering |  free press

Study: Antarctic fin whale population recovering | free press

Fin whales were nearly exterminated in Antarctica by commercial whaling in the 20th century. A German research team first discovered large populations about 50 years after the hunting ban.


For the first time since the ban on hunting fin whales, an Antarctic research team has discovered even greater numbers of animals longer than 20 meters. During two expeditions near the Antarctic Peninsula in 2018 and 2019, the team led by biologists Helena Herr of the University of Hamburg and Bettina Meyer of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven documented more than 100 sightings of one or more whales.

There are usually one to four animals, sometimes more. Writing in Scientific Reports, the team reported that two groups of about 150 whales were recorded in the historic feeding area.

Fin whales, which can weigh more than 70 tons, feed mainly on krill and small fish. According to researchers, they were almost eliminated by whaling in the southern hemisphere. In 1976, their hunting there was already banned – even before the whaling ban that applies to all large whales. In the 2000s, more fin whales were finally seen off the Antarctic Peninsula. Hare and Meyer’s team counted the whales using helicopters and drones, as well as scenes from the ship.

Maybe a good sign

“The observed group sizes of up to 150 animals are unique today, and were described as recently as the beginning of the 20th century, at the beginning of whaling in Antarctica,” said Helena Hare, first author of the study. “Even if we don’t know the total number of fin whales in Antarctica due to the lack of simultaneous observations, it may be a good sign that fin whales in Antarctica are recovering after nearly 50 years of banning commercial whaling,” he added. Bettina Meyer.

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Increased stocks affected the entire Antarctic ecosystem. According to the information, the droppings of fin whales provide more nutrients in the upper water layers. This benefits other organisms. “Microorganisms that benefit from a richer supply of nutrients absorb a lot of carbon dioxide and thus make an important contribution to decarbonizing the atmosphere,” Hare said. (dpa)