After several months of data gathering, marine biologists have released the results of an in-depth study of whales in the Antarctic region.
Thanks to a series of electronic tags and miniature cameras, the scientists were able to observe and record interactions that had never been seen before. Led by the Australian Antarctic Division, the study helped reveal several aspects of Minke whales’ feeding habits and how climate change was affecting the giant mammals’ habitat and feeding habits.
Although it is still mostly untouched by humans and is one of the only places on Earth that hasn’t seen major development, Antarctica has been one of the parts of the world most affected by climate change. Whilst the area is usually used as a baseline study for scientific research into the effects of changing weather patterns and climatic conditions, the region is home to several species of animals that have yet to be completely researched, such as the Minke whale.
These whales were the focus of this latest study, and the data it yielded led to the research team calling it a resounding success. The usually shy and elusive Minke whales are known to be an abundant part of Antarctica’s ecological structure, but until now, little was known about them and their feeding habits, as scientist Ari Friedlaender explained:
“We have some wonderful data on different feeding strategies from rolling lunges near the surface, to bubble net feeding, to deep foraging dives lunging through dense patches of krill. We have been able to show that whales spend a great deal of time during the days socialising and resting and then feeding largely throughout the evening and night time.”
The data gained from this study will help shape environmental policy and management techniques for the Antarctic region. Australia has a claim on part of the territory, and efforts have been made by scientists to push the government towards taking a more protective stance over it. There is still a lot of research to be done in the area as marine biologists and ecologists look to learn more about a part of the world that is now under a constant rate of change.
Additional pressures, such as Japan’s whaling campaign in the area have befuddled scientists, who are still learning about the ecosystem and the best ways to preserve it from human-driven climate change, as WWF Australia’s ocean science manager Chris Johnson pointed out:
“Growing human impacts such as climate change and increasing krill fishing overlapping in their critical feeding areas need to be managed carefully.”