50 years after killing, 58 blue whales have returned to the South Atlantic

An international team of scientists discovered the return of endangered blue whales to the waters of the subantarctic island of South Georgia 50 years after whaling almost completely wiped out their population.

The study, based on an analysis of observations, photographs and underwater sound recordings over the past 30 years, showed that the blue whale population around the South Georgia Islands is gradually recovering. This became possible after the introduction of a ban on commercial whaling in the region in the 1960s. The research results are published by the journal Endangered Species Research.

The blue whale population lived off the coast of South Georgia before industrial whaling killed 42,698 between 1904 and 1971. Most of them were killed before the mid-1930s.

This species has practically disappeared from the region.

And yet, in 2020, more than 58 blue whales have been sighted.

Study lead author Suzanne Calderan of the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences (SAMS) said: “The long absence of blue whales from South Georgia is a landmark example of that population being locally exploited beyond the level from which it could recover. We have worked at South Georgia for the past few years and 2020 will be remembered for the most blue whale sightings we could ever hope for.”

Whales were detected both visually and using acoustic methods.

We still don’t fully understand why it took the blue whales so long to return.

Suzanne Calderan, study lead author

Opportunities for special studies of whales in this region known for its harsh weather and inaccessibility are limited, but they are critical to the future management of the resources of the South Georgia seas, the scientists conclude.

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