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Tilikum, the father of Nakai. © Paul Wigmore

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Fin whales return to old feeding grounds in Southern Ocean

An exciting discovery by researchers in the waters around Antarctica suggest that fin whales are starting to return to their former feeding grounds.

During the first part of the 20th century, commercial whaling decimated whale numbers in the region as whalers reduced populations to a fraction of their original figure. By the time it become commercially unviable to hunt fin whales in the mid 1970s, over 700,000 had been hunted, leaving just a few thousand remaining.

Now 40 years later, as the population slowly starts to recover, it appears they are returning to places they had all but disappeared from.

Surveys in the area have sighted large number of fin whales gathering around the Antarctic peninsula to feed, including the first scientific documentation of the whales at Elephant Island.

This exciting discovery is not just good news for fin whales. They also play a valuable role in the local ecosystem, helping with the distribution of vital nutrients through a process known as the "The Whale Pump". The fin whales were seen feeding on krill which themselves feed on phytoplankton. Phytoplankton flourishes in an iron-rich environment, a major source of which is whale poo! By allowing whale numbers to increase will hopefully have a major benefit on the wider ocean environment.

Read the full report:
Herr, H., Viquerat, S., Devas, F. et al. Return of large fin whale feeding aggregations to historical whaling grounds in the Southern Ocean. Sci Rep 12, 9458 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-13798-7

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About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.

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