"These animals are very long-lived maybe 70 to 100 years and they can grow to a length of more than 100 feet and weigh more than 330,000 pounds," he said. "There is a jawbone in a museum in South Africa that takes up most of the lobby. This is one reason they were so intensively exploited; they were the most valuable whales to hunt."
Despite their history of exploitation, little is known about modern-day movements of Antarctic blue whales, which are considered a separate subspecies differing in size and habitat use from the smaller "pygmy" blue whales, which live in more temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere.
Through "microsatellite genotyping," or DNA fingerprinting, the PLoS ONE study was able to track some of the movements of individual Antarctic blue whales.
"We documented one female that traveled from one side of Antarctica to the other a minimum distance of more than 6,650 kilometers over a period of four years," said Sremba, who is now continuing her studies as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU. "It is the first documentation of individual movements by Antarctic blue whales since the end of the commercial whaling era."
Baker said the long distance movement of a few individuals was "somewhat surprising" in comparison to the evidence for genetic differences between areas of the Southern Ocean. On one hand, it is apparent that individual Antarctic blue whales are capable of traveling enormous distances in search of food.
"On the other hand," Baker said, "there seems to be some fidelity to the same feeding grounds as a result of a calf's early experience with its mother. This 'maternally directed' fidelity to migratory destinations seems to be widespread among great whales."
There is much, however, which scientists still don't know about Antarctic blue whales, Baker pointed out.
"This is a poorly understood species of whales, despite its history
|Contact: Scott Baker|
Oregon State University