A once-endangered whale is making a comeback.

The whales nearly wiped out in the 19th century have been seen in large numbers in their ancestral hunting grounds near Elephant Island in Antarctica, according to research published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The research reports that a team of scientists led by Helena Herr of the University of Hamburg spotted more than 100 groups of southern right whales during two expeditions in 2018 and 2019.

“I had never seen so many whales in one place before, and I was fascinated watching these huge groups feeding,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Bettina Meyer, a biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research. And at the University of Oldenburg and the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity.

These groups usually consisted of one to four whales. Still, some were unusually large, with at least eight groups comprised of 150 individual whales, some of the largest groups of whales ever recorded, engaged in frenzied feeding and scooping water into their massive mouth and filtering out the krill with their long bristly teeth.

Previously, scientists had only seen groups of up to 13 whales feeding together.

Herr and her colleagues documented the sightings of the whales using aerial images from helicopters and – in another first for science – captured some of the communal feedings on video with the help of a BBC camera.

Right whales, along with humpback and blue whales, were nearly wiped out, with researchers estimating that over 700,000 whales were killed when whaling was banned in the 1970s.

Scientists believe the data indicate that whale populations in Antarctica are recovering and can potentially improve their area’s marine ecosystem by eating and excreting krill and other plankton.

According to one study, whale waste is high in nutrients, especially nitrogen, which, when it reaches the surface, feeds phytoplankton, feeding many fish and other marine life.

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Alice is the Chief Editor with relevant experience of three years, Alice has founded Galaxy Reporters. She has a keen interest in the field of science. She is the pillar behind the in-depth coverages of Science news. She has written several papers and high-level documentation.


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