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Marine species makes resurgence after being hunted to near-extinction: 'A success of conservation on a global scale'

The whales' slow rate of breeding meant it took nearly 100 years for the aquatic mammal to restore its population.

The whales' slow rate of breeding meant it took nearly 100 years for the aquatic mammal to restore its population.

Photo Credit: iStock

Argentina's Patagonian coast has welcomed back a creature that had long been absent from the area after it was hunted to near extinction.

Sei whales, the third-largest species of whale, are a more regular sight off the coast of Southern Argentina thanks to global bans on commercial whaling that have allowed the animals to recover in numbers.

Biologist and researcher in marine ecosystems at the Argentine state science body CONICET Mariano Coscarella explained to Reuters that the sei whales' slow rate of breeding — once every two to three years — meant it took nearly 100 years for the aquatic mammal to restore its population.

"We can consider this a success of conservation on a global scale," Coscarella told the publication. "After hunting that reduced the (sei whales) population to a minimum, almost 100 years later, this population started to bounce back and now they come to the same places they used to before they had been hunted."

Sei whales are majestic creatures that also play an important role in healthy ecosystems. According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they can consume 2,000 pounds of food a day, helping to keep the balance of the food chain in check, which benefits communities that rely on fishing for food and income. 

Meanwhile, whale feces provide essential nutrients for phytoplankton, which produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide at impressive rates. Sei whales can also absorb carbon in life and deposit it in death, with the latter helping to support deep-sea ecosystems. 

While hunting is no longer a significant problem for sei whale populations, they still face threats from warming ocean temperatures, collisions with huge ocean-going vessels, entanglement in discarded fishing gear, and consumption of plastic waste.

We can do our part to help with both the former and the latter. Reducing the planet-warming pollution we produce — from transportation, diet, consumer choices, and waste disposal, for example — can help to keep Earth's temperatures down, slowing the rate at which oceans heat up.

Cutting our use of single-use plastics can also make a difference by stopping the production of this harmful material that often makes its way to oceans once discarded, where it will not degrade and can enter the bodies of aquatic animals that mistake items for food. 

That's not to mention nano- and microplastic pollution and the fact that plastic is made from petrochemicals, which can leach harmful compounds into the water if it remains for too long.

On a larger scale, Coscarella told Reuters that countries need to maintain their commitment to the global moratorium on whaling, allowing these amazing creatures to continue to thrive. It's helping other species of whale bounce back, too, with scientists in Australia reporting blue whale numbers have stabilized or are on the rise. 

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