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Good News Friday: Mass Fin Whale Congregation

Over the last decade, our collective awareness of the state of our oceans has increased. More and more people know how our actions impact ocean health. Many of us have adjusted the way we live our lives so that we cause minimal damage to our planet and waters. Despite these efforts, it can sometimes feel like bad news is all we hear, but there is good news abound and so we love to share it with you every Friday. This Good News Friday, we’re sharing the feel-good story about a recent sighting of a mass whale congregation. Keep reading to see why this is such good news!

Fin Whales Congregate

Last week (Jan 17, 2022), over 1,000 fin whales were spotted swimming together off the coast of the Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. Fin whales are the second-largest species of whale on the planet, only dwarfed by the magnificent blue whale. These whales weigh approximately 100,000 lbs as adults and average 61 – 66 feet in length.

As you can imagine, seeing so many large whales is quite a sight to behold, but the sighting was made even more special because they were swimming in the same seas they were hunted to near extinction during the 1800s and early 1900s.

Four krill fishing boats and one research vessel spotted the whales, and one of the researchers present, Conor Ryan, believes it may have been one of the largest congregations ever recorded. Ryan says this could be “one of the largest aggregations of fin whales ever documented,” which is truly incredible.

A Well-Fed Gathering

For those of us who have never seen a whale, it’s quite hard to imagine a thousand of them, all gliding through the waves and triumphantly blowing water into the air as if in celebration. The sighting of these magnificent creatures has left whale scientists in awe (and envy!) of zoologist Conor Ryan, who saw the whole thing from the polar cruiser, National Geographic Endurance.

While the sudden appearance of so many whales may seem mysterious, it likely occurred when and where it did because four large krill boats were nearby, giving the whales tons of shrimp to feed on. It also may be that the temptation of food was so great that these huge animals abandoned their typically shy and unsociable nature in favor of a good meal!

It’s also worth mentioning that the stereotype of fin whales being shy may have come from a clever changing of their behavior over time. Fin whales may have altered their habits, avoiding gathering in groups to evade whalers, but fortunately, this behavior wasn’t necessary on this occasion.

Why is this whale sighting such good news?

Over the last century, whaling has caused such loss to the species that it seemed impossible that such a large congregation would ever form again. In the last 100 years, the sperm whale population has been reduced to one-third of its original population and the blue whale population has depleted by around 90%. Despite this, the overall whale population seems to have made a glorious comeback, particularly over the last 5 years. Since May 2020, humpback whales have managed to return to 93% of their original population, which is hugely encouraging.

This rare sighting is certainly a positive sign. Sometimes, doing your part to save the planet can feel like trying to put out a house fire with a thimble full of water – but this goes to show that positive changes humans make can help to undo the damage we’ve done. It serves as a reminder that there are many species of breathtaking animals out there that we can, and need to protect.