The blue whale has been hunted to almost extinction by the whalers of the north-east Atlantic. Now, a recent sighting shows a sign that the whale may be making a return to English waters.
According to The Daily Telegraph:
But in a measure of their recovery a blue whale has been spotted some 250 miles off the coast of Cornwall.
The rare sighting of the world’s largest animal has stunned and delighted marine biologists in equal measure.
A scientific expedition caught the mammal on camera by chance, capturing what they describe as “conclusive” photographs of the majestic creature.
It is thought to be the first time a blue whale has been photographed within English waters.
The blue whale was estimated by Prof Russell Wynn, of the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), to be twice as long as a London double-deckerbus.
Prof Wynn, who took the pictures from aboard the RSS James Cook, said: “I was undertaking our daily marine mammal survey and enjoying watching up to seven fin whales around the ship, when the blue whale suddenly surfaced about a kilometre away.
“I had just enough time to secure some conclusive photos before the visibility decreased and the whale disappeared into the gloom.”
Dr Veerle Huvenne, also a member of NOC staff and chief scientist aboard the five-week CODEMAP2015 expedition, added: “There was huge excitement on board as many people got a glimpse of their first blue whale, but only later did we realise that this is probably the first to be photographed within English waters.”
The dramatic encounter between man and giant mammal took place on August 24, approximately 250 miles (400 kilometres) south west of Cornwall, over a deep-sea canyon on the northern margin of the Bay of Biscay.
Dr Huvenne said: “The Biscay margin is already recognised as a hotspot for whales, dolphins and seabirds – our new data further underline the importance of this area for iconic marine life.”
The sighting was described by the NOC as “incredibly rare” and followed a photographic record of a blue whale off southwest Ireland in September 2008.
It is thought the whale may have been returning south to warmer waters in the tropics, where the species breeds and gives birth, after feeding on krill in the cold waters around Iceland.
The species was hunted to near-extinction in the northeast Atlantic region in the early 20th century, but recent sightings around the Bay of Biscay may indicate the population is slowly starting to recover and move into new areas, an NOC spokesman said.
The blue whale was hunted to near-extinction in the north-east Atlantic region in the early 20th century, but recent sightings around the Bay of Biscay may indicate the population is slowly starting to recover and move into new areas.
Blue whales were abundant in nearly all the Earth’s oceans until the beginning of the twentieth century when hunters slaughtered thousands for their blubber, oil and meat.
Before the advent of industrial scale whaling there were an estimated 240,000 blue whales in the Antarctic alone, their numbers falling to pitiful levels.
During just one season, between 1930 and 1931 season, whalers caught 29,400 blue whales in the Antarctic.
Such was the scale of the slaughter that in 1962 Arthur C Clarke, the science fiction writer, was moved to condemn the practice of whaling, saying, “we do not know the true nature of the entity we are destroying”.
Four years later the first international treaty banning the hunting of blue whales was agreed, offering them protection from the whalers’ harpoons.
A report in 2002 estimated the number of blue whales had grown to between 5,000 and 12,000 worldwide.
But conservationists emphasise that despite the ban on whaling, they still face a threat from human activity – including pollution and being struck by ships and tankers.
Sarah Goddard, species policy officer for the World Wildlife Fund, said: “It’s exciting to see a blue whale this close the British coastline and we hope their numbers are growing since the whaling moratorium was passed. But all whales still face a threat from other human activities and we need to manage our seas better to reduce this threat.”
Before industrial whaling took its toll the blue whale would have been spotted in British waters on a more regular basis by passing fishermen and sailors.
Conservationists hope that as their numbers grow they may be spotted even than last week’s sighting to the UK shore.
Ms Goddard said: “The blue whale would in all likelihood have been seen more regularly in British waters before whaling nearly wiped them out.”
Speaking to the Telegraph from on board the RSS James Cook, Prof Wynn added: “I had just enough time to get a few shots before it disappeared below the surface. It was fantastic. Hopefully its an indication that the population of the blue whale is starting to recover.”
The ‘CODEMAP2015’ expedition is focusing on seabed habitats and fauna, but is also carrying out observations on marine mammals and sea birds.
The expedition recorded a broad-billed swordfish several hundred metres below the surface on the same day as the blue whale encounter.
Swordfish are very rarely encountered in British waters and the footage obtained using a Remotely Operated Vehicle, or ROV, may also be the first of this species in the wild in English waters.
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