The fin whale is the second largest whale species and therefore the second largest creature on Earth. They can grow to more than 80 feet in length. From 1904 to 1976, there was massive industrial whaling in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. During that period, whalers killed about 700,000 fin whales, reducing their population by 99%. The species was nearly extinct.
In 1982, the International Whaling Commission voted to ban commercial whaling. Since that time, fin whales started to make a comeback in their historical feeding grounds.
During a nine-week expedition in the waters around the Antarctic Peninsula, researchers encountered the largest gathering of fin whales ever documented. About 150 fin whales were seen diving and lunging against the water’s surface. It was a feeding frenzy triggered by large amounts of krill in the water. The actions of the whales are known as a “whale pump” that drives the krill to the surface. Not only does it provide huge amounts of food for the whales but also for other animals, including seabirds and seals.
Forty years after the commercial whaling ban, the number of fin whales has been increasing. Large groups were observed in a 2013 survey. Aerial surveys in 2018 and 2019 recorded 100 groups of fin whales, usually composed of a just a handful of individuals. They did document eight large groups of up to 150 individuals.
Not all species of whales have rebounded so successfully since the whaling ban. The rebound in fin whale population is not only good for the whales, but for the entire ecosystem in the Southern Ocean. It is a glimmer of good news in a time of great challenges for global biodiversity and for marine life in particular.
Photo, posted November 15, 2007, courtesy of Gregory Smith via Flickr.