A humpback whale raises it fluke as the sun sets over the water.A humpback whale raises it fluke as the sun sets over the water.

In a rare piece of good news for whales, humpbacks who live and breed in the southern oceans near Antarctica appear to be making a comeback, with females in recent years having a high pregnancy rate and giving birth to more calves.

Humpback whales were nearly hunted out of existence in the late 19th and most of the 20th centuries until treaties were signed to stop killing them and protections were put in place for the world’s coldest, least accessible continent.

Dr. Sean Todd is the Steven K. Katona Chair in Marine Sciences at COA and director of Allied Whale, the college's world-renowned marine mammal research and stranding response organization.Dr. Sean Todd is the Steven K. Katona Chair in Marine Sciences at COA and director of Allied Whale, the college’s world-renowned marine mammal research and stranding response organization.The end of hunting has fostered the recovery of the school-bus-sized animals whose life spans are roughly comparable to ours, according to Ari Friedlaender, an associate researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz, who led the new study.

Whale researchers are concerned that this moment of health and easy access to food will be short-lived. Krill stock around Antarctica is being fished by some countries, and threatened by climate change.

Additionally, reduction in sea ice endangers krill, which feed on the underside of sea ice, said Sean Todd, the chair in marine sciences at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Me., who was not involved in the new research.

Dr. Todd said his repeated trips to Antarctica have proven to him that krill are essential to life in the southern oceans. “You either eat krill, or you eat something that eats krill,” he said. “If krill stocks collapse, then there’ll be profound changes to that region.”

 

Read More…