Eco Mystery: Record Numbers of Humpback Whales Sighted Near Antarctica


Humpback whales have been spotted in record numbers off the coast of Antarctica, in a display that has left scientists baffled. Humpbacks are migratory in nature, traveling as much as 16,000 miles each year. During the summer months, they'll typically move into the colder polar regions in search of krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures that are their favorite meals. Researchers often travel to those regions as well in hopes of getting the opportunity to study the creatures in their natural habitat.

Over the course of the past two years, scientists have been visiting the Southern Ocean to observe humpbacks and study their behavior. In both May of 2009 and 2010, they recorded record numbers of whales there, at a time when the giant mammals should have been heading for warmer waters. In one instance, they counted 306 humpback whales in the Wilhelmina Bay, a small body of water that falls on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Researchers warn that it could mean dire consequences for the ecosystem as the region around the Antarctic continent warms up, with the sea ice rapidly shrinking. The krill use that sea ice as a nursery for their young. The whales could potentially decimate the krill population, leaving themselves facing starvation in the future.

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