By Jonathan Amos
Scientists say they have seen a remarkable collection of blue whales in the coastal waters around the UK sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia.
Their 23-day survey counted 55 animals – a total that is unprecedented in the decades since commercial whaling ended.
South Georgia was the epicentre for hunting in the early 20th Century.
The territory’s boats with their steam-powered harpoons were pivotal in reducing Antarctic blues to just a few hundred individuals.
To witness 55 of them now return to what was once a pre-eminent feeding ground for the population has been described as “truly, truly amazing” by cetacean specialist Dr Trevor Branch from the University of Washington, Seattle.
“To think that in a period of 40 or 50 years, I only had records for two sightings of blue whales around South Georgia. Since 2007, there have been maybe a couple more isolated sightings. So to go from basically nothing to 55 in one year is astonishing,” he told BBC News.
“It’s such good news to see that they might be further rebounding and coming back to places where they were formerly extremely abundant.”
Dr Branch was commenting on the survey which was led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) with the support of the University of Auckland.