South Georgia Lost Giants

South Georgia’s Lost Giants: the Antarctic blue whale project

Start date
1 July, 2025
End date
31 December, 2028

South Georgia’s Lost Giants is part of the British Antarctic Survey’s “Wild Water Whales” project studying the recovery of whales from historical exploitation in South Georgia.

Antarctic blue whales (Balaena musculus intermedia) are the original “ocean giants” – the largest whale species on the planet, but also one of the most poorly understood. They were decimated by 20th-century whaling and are classified by the IUCN as “Critically Endangered”, with <3,000 individuals estimated alive in the 1990s. Sub-Antarctic South Georgia was a whaling hotspot for this subspecies with >42,000 blue whales killed in local waters. 

Excitingly, our recent surveys have shown signs that Antarctic blue whales are now recolonizing South Georgia waters, with regular sightings and acoustic detections in summer. This was a big news story in 2020!

The Lost Giants project aims to conduct the first dedicated survey of Antarctic blue whales in South Georgia waters since whaling, estimating how many blue whales use these waters, which oceanic areas are important for them and identifying conservation and protection measures for this critically endangered whale.

The project will use innovative whale tracking technology to acoustically locate Antarctic blue whales in the waters around South Georgia and conduct the first dedicated survey of Antarctic blue whales at this former whaling ground, using pioneering cetacean-centered science: acoustic detections to measure distribution, sighting surveys to measure density, photo-identification to identify individuals, drones to measure body size and document feeding behaviour, and satellite tracking of whale movements and skin biopsy to identify the sex, pregnancy status and genetic identity of individuals.

This project will involve international collaborators from the following institutes: the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the University of Washington, the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the Australian Antarctic Division.

The project is also very grateful to the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands for providing significant logistical support.

 

 

A person wearing a helmet.

Jennifer Jackson

Molecular Ecologist/Whale biologist

Ecosystems team

A man standing next to a body of water

Stephanie Martin

Coordinator South Georgia Humpback Project