"A hydrophone reveals a vital Antarctic feeding and breeding ground for the world’s second-largest whale."
"In 2012, Elke Burkhardt was aboard the RV Polarstern in the water between Antarctica and southern Chile. The marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany was testing an infrared camera, and over the course of a few weeks, she would peer off the ship’s deck and look for whales, sometimes spotting the occasional fin whale. But as the ship moved toward Elephant Island, the krill-stained-orange waters began to seethe. Roughly 100 fin whales were lunging out of the water and blowing plumes of steamy breath. “It was really fantastic,” says Burkhardt.
Seeing even a half-dozen fin whales at a time is remarkable; the species is fast and shy—traits that, at first, spared them from the worst of industrial whaling. But with the invention of the steamship, whalers caught up and soon harvested 95 percent of the global fin whale population, killing an estimated 750,000. The population has since recovered to around 100,000. This means that, to the scale of their abundance, seeing 100 fin whales churning the water in the same place is like finding a remote village in the jungle with the population of Hong Kong.
The krill populations off Antarctica are the richest in the world, and whales from distant regions congregate there to feed on the bounty. Burkhardt wondered if that’s what she was seeing."