After a century, Antarctica's blue whales have been seen in South Georgia once again after near extinction.

Largest-known animal seen again

The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the largest known animal on the planet, is critically endangered. They have been seen in the waters near South Georgia Island near Antarctica, after nearly a hundred years of being nearly hunted down to extinction from industrial whaling.

A survey recently made around South Georgia, an industrial whaling center until its banning during the 1960s, found dozens of individuals. From 1998 up to 2018, only one whale was seen there.

According to Susannah Calderan, a marine mammal ecologist and SAMS Scottish Association for Marine Science research fellow, they detected indications of the whales returning to South Georgia. However, they were still surprised by the large numbers that were found this year.

Blue Whales of Antarctica Seen Again in South Georgia After Near Extinction
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons )
After a century, Antarctica's blue whales have been seen in South Georgia once again after near extinction.

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The report

Calderan is the lead study author of a paper focusing on the blue whales' return near the island of South Georgia. The findings of their expedition were published in Endangered Species Research.

There were 38 blue whale sightings in just several weeks on the water's surface, while a total of 58 whales were detected, including the acoustic detections of sonobuoys that monitor whale songs underwater.

Whale killing

During the early part of the last century, the island was an industrial whaling center, where humpback whales and blue whales were captured. Over 42,000 individual blue whales have been caught and killed in this area from 1904 to 1971, with the majority caught during the mid-'30s. 

During the early part of this century, the waters of South Georgia teemed with blue whales, but in just 30 years, nearly all were dead. Calderan credits luck for the whales escaping complete extermination.

Due to the whaling industry, blue whales' populations dwindled to a mere 0.15 percent of their original numbers.

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Whale recovery 

Blue whales are now increasing in numbers in other locations in the Antarctic in the past few decades. The most recent expedition was the first to see the animals roaming the area of South Georgia.

Due to their near extinction, the blue whales from the South Georgia area during the early part of the last century could have failed to pass on the "memory" of this area's abundance of krill to their young. Krill served as whale food. 

Krill live in huge numbers in the Southern Ocean area, and presumably, no whale from the area survived to pass on the feeding areas' abundance to their calves. According to Calderan, the whales did not pass on their knowledge because they were effectively wiped out. 

However, the recent survey's findings show that some blue whales rediscovered the South Georgia feeding area. Calderan said that it took the blue whales longer to come back to this fertile feeding ground.

Research also showed the increase of humpback whale population in the region. This whale species was also a victim of the past century's whaling operations.

Calderan says the return of the humpback whales of Antarctica and blue whales of South Georgia, after narrowly missing extinction, is a good and encouraging sign.

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