In a “thrilling” Antarctic spectacle, for the first time since whaling was banned, dozens of southern fin whales were spotted feasting together. This has been hailed by scientists as a sign of hope for the world’s second-largest animal, second in length only to blue whales. The ocean giants possess a slender body that helps them glide through water at a really high speed. However, even this speed couldn’t help them evade whaling. In the 20th century, they were driven to near-extinction by hunters who systematically shattered populations of whales globally. Their numbers reached an alarming one to two per cent of the original population size. A whaling ban in the 1970s helped rescue the mysterious animal from the brink of nothingness.
Although researchers claim that southern fin whale populations have been slowly increasing following a 1976 whaling ban, there have been only been a few reports of these fascinating creatures in big groups at their traditional feeding areas.
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But scientists and filmmakers were able to record footage of up to 150 southern fin whales in Antarctica, in what Herr called “one of nature’s greatest events.”
Wildlife filmmakers from the BBC captured footage of the fin whales using a drone as they swooped and lunged through the water, launching huge bursts of air as they surfaced.
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According to Helena Herr, a researcher at the University of Hamburg and the study’s primary author, “one or two percent of their original population size.”
“We’re talking about a couple of thousand animals left for the whole southern hemisphere area.”
The scientists unofficially dubbed it the “fin whale party” as the massive animals feasted on swirling krill swarms.
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Fin whales were observed in around a hundred groups over two voyages in 2018 and 2019; these groups ranged in size from eight enormous congregations of up to 150 whales to small gatherings of just a few individuals.
Prior to now, feeding groups of whales were only ever observed with a maximum of twelve members.
The authors calculate that there may be close to 8,000 fin whales in the Antarctic region using information from their surveys. Fin whales are presently classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and it is thought that there are 100,000 of them worldwide, with the majority living in the northern hemisphere.
(With inputs from agecies)