Fin whales are making a comeback in the Antarctic

A fin whale.
(Image credit: Francois Gohier/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Researchers studying fin whales in the Antarctic were astonished to observe 150 of the creatures eating krill near Elephant Island — a welcome sight after they were almost hunted to extinction decades ago.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers said they witnessed multiple gatherings of fin whales in their ancestral feeding grounds off the coast of Antarctica. "I've never seen so many whales in one place before and was absolutely fascinated watching these massive groups feed," said study co-author Bettina Meyer, a biologist and professor at Alfred Wegener Institute.

By the time a commercial whaling ban went into effect about 40 years ago, it was estimated that just 1 to 2 percent of fin whales survived. Seeing so many in their feeding grounds is "raising hope that fin whales are on their way to pre-exploitation numbers," the researchers said.

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Research suggests that several whale species pass information about feeding sites through mothers, and the study proposes that "the location of the Antarctic feeding sites might have been lost to generations of fin whales until now because their populations were so decimated and disconnected by whaling," NBC News writes. Meyers says this would be a "good sign" that the "fin whale population in the Antarctic is rebounding."

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