Blue whale counts could be on the rise

Kristina Flexman on whether there is still hope for one of the world's most endangered species

Kristina Flexman
9th March 2020
Whilst conservation scientists often highlight the environmental damage caused by humankind, they also celebrate nature’s victories which remind us that nature is resilient.

One such victory is reported by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who led a 23 day expedition in South Georgia Island which, due to hunting, has been barren of blue whales for decades. During the survey, they recorded an “astonishing” 55 Antarctic blue whales, a far higher number than they predicted.

Even blue whales, the largest mammals on the planet, have not evaded human impact. South Georgia Island used to be an epicentre for whale hunting. The International Whaling Commission estimates that between 1866 and 1978, over 380,000 blue whales were hunted by humans, leaving the current day population estimates between 5,000 and 15,000. More specifically, the Antarctic subspecies population is about 3,000 individuals.

On the upside however, no whale hunting has been recorded since 1978, after global agreement to an international ban in 1965. Whilst the BAS survey is only a small piece of evidence, extensive studies published by Doctor Trevor Branch, and colleagues, confidently show Antarctic blue whale population increase by 4 - 9%. The cetacean specialist commented on the recent sightings by BAS, saying that it is “truly, truly amazing” and that “in a period of 40 or 50 years, I only had records for two sightings of blue whales around South Georgia. Since 2007, there have been maybe a couple more isolated sightings. So to go from basically nothing to 55 in one year is astonishing".

Antarctic blue whales are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, but their future is optimistic, and could result in a prime example of how international governance can successfully protect nature and even reverse the damage caused by humans.  

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