Scientists are racing against time to discover more about the lives of our great whales in the Southern Ocean to ensure their protection for generations to come.

Most of the world’s large whale species are found in the Antarctic among a diverse marine ecosystem of over 8,000 species, more than half of which are seen nowhere else in the world.

However, whale distribution and their critical feeding areas are poorly understood. As climate change and krill fishing increase in the Antarctic, the pressure to learn more about these majestic animals becomes more urgent. New technologies are helping scientists better understand and map the most important areas where whales feed, so we can protect them before it’s too late. To do this, WWF is collaborating with Dr Ari Friedlaender – a whale ecologist and National Geographic explorer who has worked in the Antarctic for over 15 years, studying ocean giants who visit and call the Southern Ocean their home. His research consists of working with international scientists through the International Whaling Commission – Southern Ocean Research Partnerships (IWC-SORP) based at Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart. Their aim is to implement and promote non-lethal whale research techniques to maximise conservation outcomes for Southern Ocean whales.

The thing I love the most about working in the Antarctic, is simply being in the most remote, unique, and beautiful wilderness on the planet

Dr Ari Friedlaender

Whale Ecologist and National Geographic Explorer

Using non-invasive digital tags with suction cups to monitor the whales’ behaviour and movements, we are discovering where in the Antarctic Peninsula these whales are gathering and feeding, so we can make recommendations where to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). “Non-invasive tags remain on the whales for 24 hours. They provide us with both video and sensor data, helping us understand where the animals go, when and how often they feed and how they interact with their environment and other animals. This provides volumes of information that we can share to promote education, conservation and protection of whales and the most remote, unique and beautiful wilderness on the planet, Antarctica.” “Every time we deploy a tag or collect a sample, we learn something new about whales in the Antarctic.” - Dr Ari Friedlaender

Humpback and southern right whales make epic migrations thousands of kilometres to feed in the summer-time.

Minke whales are found around the entire continent and they feed along sea-ice. We don’t know their migration patterns and how climate change will impact feeding areas. The lives of the critically endangered Antarctic blue whales – Earth’s largest living creature – are still a mystery to us. Their population is not recovering and scientists do not know why.

Krill underwater with fact
© WWF Australia - supplied

WWF is working hard with partners to give Antarctic ocean giants a voice, implementing innovative conservation solutions such as establishing marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. Establishing well-managed MPAs can help maintain krill populations and deliver effective biodiversity conservation, helping protect future generations of whales.


Minke whale underwater, Coral Sea
Minke whale underwater, Coral Sea © John Rumney / WWF-Aus

Antarctic blue whale

Antarctic blue whales, fin, minke, humpback, southern right and sei whales are all baleen whales found in the Southern Ocean.

Antarctic krill, Weddell Sea, Antarctica
© / Ingo Arndt / WWF

Protecting antarctic giants

Krill are very sensitive to increasing ocean temperatures, as well as increasing ocean acidification driven by rising carbon dioxide concentrations in seawater.