ScienceDaily has discovered large numbers of fin whales from the southern hemisphere for the first-ever time since the ban on whaling.


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Fin whales, which are larger than blue whales, are the most endangered whale species in the world. Humans have almost eradicated both species. These long-lived, slow-growing whales are now in good health. Scientists and filmmakers present video and photos of large groups up to 150 fin whales in historical feeding areas in Scientific Reports. This is more than was ever documented using modern methods. Other species in Antarctica’s ecosystem could benefit from these whales’ important role in nutrient recycling.

Prof Bettina Meyer is co-author of the current study and says that she has never seen so many whales at once. Scientific Reports. She led an expedition with Polarstern, a research icebreaker, in the Antarctic Peninsula region from March 2018 to May 2018. During this expedition, groups of 50 to 70 fin whales were seen.Balaenoptera physalus quoyi) were observed.

The expedition looked at e.g. The Antarctic Krill, which is the base of the Antarctic food chain, was subject to climate change. It can grow up six centimetres. These bioluminescent crustaceans, which are tiny and bioluminescent, are a major food source for whales, penguins and seals. During the expedition, a team led by the study’s first author Dr Helena Herr from Universität Hamburg and a camera team from the BBC jointly used the Polarstern’s onboard helicopter for survey flights, counting and filming the whale stocks. In 22 flights, the team traveled 3251 kms and counted 100 fin whale groups. Each group consisted of one to four animals. The whale research team also kept watch on deck, and they spotted a group consisting of approximately. There were 50 southern fin whales close to Elephant Island, in the Weddell sea off the Antarctic Peninsula. Later, there were more than 70 at the same spot. Bettina Meyer recalls, “I ran straight towards our monitor, which uses audio measuring methods to show size and presence of krill flocks in the waters.” “We were able, based upon the data, to identify the Swarms and even observe how the Whales hunted them.”

The whales not only eat the shrimp, but also provide a benefit to the ocean. The nutrients in whale excrement — such as iron — are crucial for the growth phytoplankton (microalgae), in the water. In turn, phytoplankton provides food for the krill. “Whales are more productive when they recycle more nutrients. This encourages algae growth, which in turn absorbs carbon dioxide from air through photosynthesis.2 concentration,” Bettina Meyer explains.

The recovery of fin whale stock seems to be a trend. One year after the Polarstern expedition the whale research team and BBC returned to Elephant Island with chartered ships and observed up 150 animals. Bettina Meyer says that even though we don’t yet know the number of Antarctic fin whales due to lack of simultaneous observations this could be a sign that the Antarctic fin whale population is recovering, almost 50 years after ban on commercial whaling.

Background Weddell Sea

The International Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – CCAMLR aims at creating a network of Marine Protected Areas. CCAMLR was established in 2016 by the European Union (EU). It was the first time that an MPA was requested in the Weddell Strait, which is the Atlantic region of the Southern Ocean. Experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute compiled and analyzed the scientific data. Although many states have supported the Weddell Sea MPA request as a refuge area for cold-loving species, it has not been approved yet by CCAMLR.



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