The increase in the number of fin whales is seen by scientists as a good sign for the health and ecosystem of the oceans.
More than a hundred fin whales were filmed by the BBC in Antarctica, an unprecedented and “thrilling” spectacle hailed by scientists on Thursday, the species having been almost exterminated by whaling, banned since 1976.
Their numbers have been reduced “to one or two percent of the size of their original population,” Helena Herr, a marine mammal scientist, told AFP.
In particular, the whales were killed for the oil contained in their body fat, “an example of how humanity treats resources (…) as long as you can make a profit”, she adds.
Good news for the ecosystem
Footage filmed by a drone shows up to 150 of these whales darting through the water, blowing large plumes of air at the surface, while birds circle in the sky.
“The water around us was bubbling, as the animals kept coming up and causing splashing,” says Helena Herr, as also shown in a video from the Guardian. “It was thrilling, just standing there and watching that.”
A sign of hope for the second largest animal in the world, after the blue whales, considered according to her as an “ecosystem engineer”. The increase in the number of fin whales is indeed seen by scientists as a good sign for the health of the oceans, and even for efforts to combat climate change.
The whales feed on iron-rich krill and defecate in surface waters, returning nutrients to the ocean that help support the growth of tiny phytoplankton, which use the sun’s rays to turn carbon dioxide into energy and oxygen (photosynthesis).
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has also classified the fin whale in the category of “vulnerable” species and estimates the world population at 100,000 individuals, most of which are found in the northern hemisphere.
Scientists say southern fin whale numbers have been slowly rebounding since whaling was banned in 1976, but few of these animals have been seen in large groups in their historic feeding grounds.
“We are talking about a few thousand animals remaining for the whole southern hemisphere zone,” explains Helena Herr. The scientist is now planning other missions to investigate the lingering mysteries around these ocean giants, including their breeding grounds.