Researchers observed a group of 150 southern fin whales feeding in the antarctic, the largest since the ban on commercial whaling, according to a study published Thursday. Photo courtesy Alfred Wegener Institute
July 7 (UPI) -- Researchers observed a group of 150 southern fin whales feeding in the antarctic, the largest since the ban on commercial whaling, according to a study published Thursday,
The group was the largest group of southern fin whales -- the second largest species of whale behind the blue whale -- observed feeding in their ancestral feeding grounds in Antarctic waters since a ban on commercial whaling in 1976, researchers said in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
"I'd never seen so many whales in one place before and was absolutely fascinated watching these massive groups feed," Professor Bettina Meyer, a biologist and co-author of the study, said.
Researchers set out on an initial expedition in 2018 to investigate the effects of climate change on Antarctic krill, which serve as the basis for the Antarctic food web and could benefit from the rebounding population of southern fin whales.
During the expedition the researchers surveyed the area in a helicopter and spotted 100 groups of fin whales, made up of one to four whales each.
They also saw a group of 50 southern fin whales near Elephant Island in the Weddell Sea off of the Antarctic Peninsula and later found 70 more in the same spot.
"I ran straight to our monitor, which uses acoustic measuring methods to show the presence and size of krill swarms in the water and, based on the data, we were able to identify the swarms and even see how the whales hunted them," said Meyer.
They returned in 2019 when they saw the record-setting group of 150 whales.
"Even if we still don't know the total number of fin whales in the Antarctic, due to the lack of simultaneous observations, this could be a good sign that, nearly 50 years after the ban on commercial whaling, the fin whale population in the Antarctic is rebounding," Meyer said.