Blue whales return to the sanctuary of Seychelles

For years, little was known about the occurrence of cetaceans in the western tropical Indian Ocean. Now new studies have confirmed the presence of blue whales in Seychelles' waters, offering hope for the future.

In two field seasons, scientists from the University of Seychelles, Florida International University and Oregon State University recorded 23 species of whale in the waters of the Seychelles, including blue whales. Five confirmed blue whale sightings have been made in the past five years.

Seychelles was a hunting ground for Soviet whalers in the 20th century. After joining the International Whaling Commission in 1978, the nation lobbied successfully to protect the Indian Ocean from whaling. A year later in 1979, the nation became part of the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

“Never in my life would I have imagined that the biggest animal on planet Earth cruises our oceans here in Seychelles," said Ms Dillys Pouponeau, a research assistant at the Save Our Sea Foundation D’Arros Research Centre (SOSF-DRC).

“To me this was big news because it reflects the productivity of our oceans. It shows how regulations have helped to protect this species after whaling.”

Dr Kiszka, a biology professor at Florida International University and a research associate at the Island Biodiversity and Conservation Centre at the University of Seychelles, added: “Blue whales are protected because they are no longer legally hunted, but they still face a range of threats.

“Shipping traffic causes noise pollution and can lead to collisions. Climate change is changing the distribution and abundance of their key food, krill.”

Of the four subspecies we know exist, it’s the pygmy blue whale that visits Seychelles. “We now need to increase our research efforts to assess the abundance of these blue whales and discover why they are using Seychelles’ waters. We also need to raise awareness and help the government to protect them better,” said Dr Kiszka.

“The coolest thing is that our work here involves studying not only the smallest animals alive, zooplankton, but also the biggest, blue whales. I hope that we can share this with more students from Seychelles, and from further afield.

“These blue whales have no borders; we need to conduct research on an appropriate scale. And we need to collaborate internationally. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to understand these blue whales,” concluded Dr Kiszka.