The fin whale could be a bright spot in an ocean of looming ecosystem changes. During the twentieth-century whaling boom, the species was heavily hunted. Their numbers have declined to endangered levels in the Southern Hemisphere. The world’s second largest whale, on the other hand, is making an encouraging comeback in the Antarctic region. Large fin whale feeding aggregations, also known as whale parties, have returned to the waters where they were once hunted, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports. Scientists estimate their southern population to be 8,000 strong, elevating them to vulnerable status.
The fin whale can grow to be more than 60 feet long and weigh up to 100,000 pounds. These enormous mammals can live for 70 to 80 years without being hunted. Boats, however, continue to pose a threat to the species. They eat krill, just like other whales. Fin whales congregate in groups of varying sizes to feed at the surface. A BBC team recently captured footage of a massive swarm of 150 whales, unlike anything seen in years. Fin whales leaped and danced as they fed in the cold waters off the coast of Antarctica. “The water around us was boiling because the animals were coming up all the time and causing splashes,” paper author Dr. Helena Herr told ABC. “Just standing there and watching it was thrilling.”
While global fin whale populations are now estimated to number 100,000, much more is known about northern whales than southern whales. Despite their size, the latter’s breeding locations and patterns are unknown. Researchers tagged several whales, but tracking was hampered by the pandemic. Even now, the number of whales slaughtered in the last century dwarfs their global population: an estimated 700,000 whales. However, the resurgent population shows that conservation efforts are effective and that whales are resilient. While threats such as boats and climate change remain, the return of whales is cause for celebration.
Southern hemisphere fin whale populations are recovering from endangered to vulnerable status.
They were nearly hunted to extinction, but have now returned to feed in “whale parties” in their old hunting grounds.