A sign of hope for oceanic life was spotted of the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Throughout the 19th century the whaling industry pushed the fin whale population to near extinction.
Now the damage brought by humanity appears to have reversed. A group of approximately 1,000 Fin Whales, potentially one of the largest groupings ever recorded, was found spread across a five-mile-wide area between the South Orkney Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Conor Ryan witnessed this once-in-a-lifetime sight from the deck of the polar cruiser National Geographic Endurance.
— Conor Ryan (@whale_nerd) January 14, 2022
Ryan, an experienced zoologist and photographer, admits his estimate of 1,000 whales is conservative and the group could very well be even larger. The sight is especially strange considering fin whales aren’t thought of as “social” creatures. Herman Melville’s classic tale “Moby Dick” describes fin whales as “not gregarious … very shy; always going solitary … the banished and unconquerable Cain of his race”.
The krill fishing vessels spotted in the area gave Ryan an indication of why the whales had gathered. Despite averaging 27 meters in length, Fin whales, and other baleen whales, consume a diet of mainly krill.
Scientists suspect fin whales and other baleen whales avoided feeding in large groups to evade whalers, much like shift in sperm whale behavior during the 19th century. The enormous gathering of fin whales at the southernmost tip of the world is perhaps an indication that their population is increasing and their natural behavior is returning.
When asked to describe the even Conor Ryan replied, “Words fail me,” he says. “I have seen maybe 100 fins here before in previous years. Thousands of chinstrap penguins, petrels, and albatrosses, too … It was unusually calm weather … and unusually good visibility.”