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Science And Nature

Watch the biggest feeding frenzy of fin whales ever recorded

Scientists and filmmakers recorded the massive fin whale aggregation within a fresh series streaming on Disney+.

Published September 8, 2022

6 min read

Weighing 80 tons, fin whales will be the second-largest animal on earth. Just a couple of decades ago, these massive mammals had nearly been driven to extinction, with 700,000 killed for his or her blubber through the 20th century alone. Scenes of masses of fin whales gathering off the coast of Antarctica to feed together were regarded as relics of days gone by.

Now, however, scientists and filmmakers report an encouraging finding: video proof a feeding frenzy of some 300 fin whales off the coast of Antarctica.

It appeared as if cannons within an old sea battle, says wildlife filmmaker Bertie Gregory, a National Geographic Explorer, of seeing the spouts of water from the whales blowholes coming. It had been like, OK, it is a thing that occurs. It’s not only a story book.

The function was caught on camera for Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory, a fresh National Geographic show on Disney+, and the findings, such as new information regarding migration routes, will soon come in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

All episodes of Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory, from Nat Geo, are actually streaming on Disney+.

The team says the revelation is proof that the 1982 moratorium on whaling has allowed some species to bounce back. Ahead of this year, the biggest amount of fin whales feeding in a single place officially recorded by scientists stood at a paltry 13 animals.

Nonetheless, large gatherings have already been sighted in newer decades, says Paula Olson, a marine mammal biologist with NOAA. Personally I’ve seen hundreds at the same time, she says, therefore i usually do not find an aggregation of 300 that surprising. Uncommon, however, not surprising.

Earlier in 2022 Gregory, the University of Hamburgs Helena Herr and colleagues published a study in the journal Scientific Reports documenting a feeding pod of some 150 fin whales in 2019. But, Gregory says, their spring 2021 expedition to exactly the same section of Antarctica has doubled that record.

The fin whale dinner bell

It might seem locating a huge selection of giants will be easy work, but youd be wrong.

Admittedly, the Southern Ocean is an extremely big place, says Leigh Hickmott, a whale biologist located in the uk and Gregorys collaborator on the fin whale project. Both met while researching and filming Antarctic killer whales on another expedition for National Geographic.

To get where in fact the fin whales may be feeding, Hickmott first scouted for areas where deep ocean currents slammed contrary to the steep walls of the continental shelf. Such areas create an upwelling of nutrients, Hickmott says.

Those nutrients feed phytoplankton, which feed shrimp-like crustaceans referred to as krill. And even though krill are tinyoften no larger than two inches in lengththey are believed a keystone species, without which entire ecosystems would collapse. Fin whales, with rapid lunges and enormous mouths, gulp down krill by the literal tonsaround two tons each day, actually.

With all this at heart, in March of 2021, the team headed to Elephant Island, made famous because the site where explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew were marooned in 1916 following a failed try to cross Antarctica. Gregory and Hickmott found Elephant Island forget about hospitable than Shackleton did.

Winds approaching the speed of a hurricane howled at night island, forcing the crew to anchor offshore and wait out the elements. Seasickness plagued the crew. Through the month the team spent in Antarctica, just six days were calm and clear enough for filming on the open ocean.

However they would soon be rewarded.

A ULTIMATE GOAL of wildlife film

Close to the end of the expedition, following the wind died down and the clouds lifted, Gregory got the shots he previously come forhundreds of fin whales lunge-feeding on krill with Elephant Islands snow-capped peaks standing tall in the backdrop.

In small inflatable rafts, the crew quietly piloted their way in to the middle of a boiling soup of Antarctic wildlife.

You can find just an incredible number of birds, Hickmott remembers, and also humpback whales, southern right whales, penguins, fish, not to mention, colossal clouds of krill. The sheer quantity of biomass and life before your eyes is completely incredible.

With drones in the sky and divers in the water, the team were able to film the feeding frenzy from all sides.

Theres just something about seeing these big animals en masse, altogether, thats really magical, says Gregory. Its among the Holy Grails of wildlife film.

But this is also about a lot more than just making good television, he says.

Scientists still know hardly any about where fin whales roam and what their daily lives appear to be, so Hickmott outfitted four whales with temporary satellite tags to discover. The tags, two which continued to transmit until May, allowed the team to track the animals for the very first time because they migrated from the feeding areas or more the coast of Chile, hinting at the species migratory routes. If we are able to find out more about these animals, we would have the ability to protect them better, Hickmott says.

The findings couldnt come at an improved time.

Scientifically, its a period when theres lots of darkness, Hickmott says, discussing the overwhelming nature of overlapping crises including climate change, habitat loss, and mass extinction.

However the proven fact that fin whales can once more get together in numbers not seen since before industrial whaling implies that conservation efforts been employed by.

Its inspiring, and its own incredible, but its also very humbling to see, says Hickmott. Given the opportunity, nature will come back.

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