South Georgia, a sub-Antarctic island, was at the epicenter for whale hunting in the early 20th century. The territory’s boats with their steam-powered harpoons caused populations of the Antarctic blue whale to drop so badly that there had only been a few isolated sightings of the whale around the island in more than 50 years.
With so few sightings in the past decades, researchers couldn’t have expected to see much when they returned to the island this year. But to their surprise, the found a coastline teeming with Antarctic blues, which are known to be the biggest animals on Earth. In the span of 23 days, the research team counted 55 whales—a total that is unprecedented in the decades since commercial whaling ended.
The sudden uptick in blue whale numbers around South Georgia tells us that not only are blue whale populations recovering, but they are “coming back to places where they were formerly extremely abundant.” Blue whales aren’t the only species of whale with an increasing population.
According to the research team, which was led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), populations of Right whales and Humpback whales are “going up very consistently every year.”