Recovery status and ecology of Southern Hemisphere fin whales

This IWC-SORP theme provides an over-arching research program to integrate different fields of fin whale research, with the overall aim of assessing the population status of Southern Hemisphere fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) in the post-whaling era. It aims to bring together information on population structure, migratory behaviour and destinations, current population numbers and feeding ecology.


Southern Hemisphere fin whales (SHFW) were reduced to 2% of their pre-exploitation population size during the era of widespread commercial whaling. Until today, recovery rates of the population remain unknown. Fin whales have been the target of relatively limited research in the Southern Hemisphere over recent decades. Very little is known about their population structure, ecology, habitat use and current population numbers. Fin whales presumably perform seasonal migrations to Antarctic waters but their migratory routes and breeding grounds are also unknown. Southern Ocean sightings and acoustic detections of SHFW have recently begun to increase, and SHFW are often observed in high densities in certain regions, notably the West Antarctic Peninsula. It is timely and important to address the information deficit and work collaboratively to examine the recovery status and ecological role of SHFW in the Southern Ocean. Data on population structure, migratory origins and habitat use are needed to assess whether the observed high densities are indicative of an increasing population size or distributional shifts.


The Southern Hemisphere fin whale theme aims to bring together research results from past, current and future projects providing an opportunity for coordination, cooperation and joint outcome analyses. While little dedicated research has been conducted on fin whales in the Southern Hemisphere, several research groups have been collecting data on fin whales opportunistically during other research efforts. One objective of this theme is to collate these data from different groups and sources, and to analyse them together. Despite their value, these data will likely be limited in their scope and ability to be assessed quantitatively, mainly due to their opportunistic nature. Therefore, dedicated SHFW research is also required in particular to estimate SHFW abundance, to gain insights into population structure between oceans, to investigate ecological drivers of fin whale distribution and to understand their movement patterns and migratory pathways. The results from these research efforts will be pulled together to enhance our understanding of current SHFW population status and recovery.

Specific objectives

  1. Enhanced understanding of distribution patterns and local abundance estimates of SHFW across the Southern Hemisphere
  2. Investigation of the population structure of SHFW across the Southern Hemisphere
  3. Identification of SHFW migration routes and migratory destinations
  4. Understanding SHFW feeding ecology: drivers for fin whale distribution, spatial relationships between fin whale and krill distribution, prey selectivity


Dr Helena Herr leads this theme.

A large number of research groups and scientists holding fin whale data have agreed to share their data for a joint analysis. Collaborating partners from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, the UK and the United States will collaborate in this effort.

Associated projects

Recovery status and ecology of Southern Hemisphere fin whales at the West Antarctic Peninsula (Helena Herr, Simone Panigada, Anna Panasiuk).

This page was last updated on 14 November 2019