Blue whales desert Australian coasts

Blue whales specific to the oceans around Western Australia and Victoria are spending more time in the colder waters of Antarctica, according to a recent issue of the Molecular Ecology journal.

Researchers from Macquarie University and Flinders University, monitoring the largest mammal on the planet - the blue whale - were surprised to find pygmy blue whales (a subspecies that usually occupies warmer waters) sharing the oceans around the south pole with communities of the Antarctic blue whale.

There are a number of possible reasons why this might have occurred, but there are two key theories at the moment:

  • Global warming may have heated up the waters of the antarctic so much that they resemble those that the pygmy blue whale are used to around Australia
  • Or alternatively, the dangerous over-whaling of the Antarctic blue whales (to less than 1% of their original population) in the late 19th and early 20th century might have exposed vast areas of krill in the Antarctic which previously would have been inaccessible to the pygmy blue whale

Blue whale population figuresThe blue whale has been officially recognised as an endangered species since the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species was first created in 1963. It is estimated that there were at one point nearly 300,000 blue whales in the world. 

When whaling was eventually outlawed in 1966, this number was estimated to be somewhere in the region of 650-2000. 

There are strict conservation laws in place protecting the blue whale and a 2002 report estimated that the population might have recovered to as much as 12,000.

These findings will alter and improve the way international communities manage their conservation efforts and will truly benefit the blue whale population.

Studying biology and ecological sciencesAustralia provides a truly unique setting in which to study biology and ecological sciences. This sort of research is increasingly important on a global level and skills learnt from these courses can be transferred to any country in the world.

Read this story of how a student from the UK got a scholarship to study Tuatara reptiles in New Zealand.