“Full protection by the UK of the waters around the South Sandwich Islands is needed”
New research finds that the western South Atlantic humpback population is well on its way to recovering from the devastating impacts of commercial whaling.
Whaling took a large toll on the global humpback population between the late 1700s and the mid-1900s, with as many as 300,000 whales estimated to have been killed. Some breeding populations, due to their relatively small size, remain endangered to this day.
The whaling industry drove the western population of South Atlantic humpbacks right up to the precipice of extinction. The whales spend their winters in mating and calving grounds off the eastern coast of South America, then migrate to feeding grounds in the higher latitudes of the South Atlantic, near South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, for the summer months. This particular population of humpbacks was hunted from at least the early 1800s onward, but it wasn’t until commercial whaling expanded to high latitudes during the early 1900s that the whales’ numbers were the most heavily impacted.
According to a study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science last week, there were nearly 27,000 western South Atlantic humpbacks as of 1830, but the population was reduced by some 95 percent, to just 450 whales, by the mid-1950s. In the 12 years between 1904 and 1916 alone, the population lost approximately 25,000 individuals.