One thousand fin whales, one of the world’s biggest animals, were seen last week swimming in the same seas in which they were driven to near-extinction last century due to whaling. It’s like humans never happened.
This vast assembly was spread over a five-mile-wide area between the South Orkney islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
A single whale is stupendous; imagine 1,000 of them, their misty forest of spouts, as tall as pine trees, the explosive sound of their blows, their hot breath condensing in the icy air. Their sharp dorsal fins and steel-grey bodies slide through the waves like a whale ballet, choreographed at the extreme south of our planet.
The sight has left whale scientists slack-jawed and frankly green-eyed in envy of Conor Ryan, who observed it from the polar cruiser, National Geographic Endurance. Messaging from the ship on a tricky connection, Ryan, an experienced zoologist and photographer, says this may be “one of the largest aggregations of fin whales ever documented”. His estimate of 1,000 animals is a conservative one, he says.
Fin whales are not usually seen as social animals. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville classifies the fin whale as “not gregarious … very shy; always going solitary … the banished and unconquerable Cain of his race”.
Factor in their tremendous size – at up to 27m long, only just short of the blue whale’s 33m – and you come close to appreciating the astonishing intensity of this eruption of marine life.