Blue whales have started returning to the coast of Spain 40 years after they vacated. The world’s largest mammals have been spotted on the coast of Galicia in northwest Spain several times since 2017. First, marine biologist Bruno Díaz spotted a blue whale in 2017, the first sighting of a blue whale in Galicia since the 1980s. In 2018, a different whale was spotted, followed by another in 2019.

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In 2020, two whales were spotted and identified by marine biologists as the ones from previous years. Just a week ago, a different blue whale was spotted off the Islas Cíes. Díaz says that blue whales vacated the coast of Spain due to human actions.

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“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz said. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”

Spain enjoyed one of the most robust whaling industries for over a century before the ban. Unfortunately, by the time the ban arrived in 1986, blue whales in Spain were virtually extinct.

The return of the blue whale to Spain may sound like good news to many, but some experts remain skeptical. Alfredo López, a marine biologist at a Galician NGO, says the whales’ return is likely due to climate change.

“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” López told the newspaper La Voz de Galicia. López worries that if the mammals are pushed further north of the equator due to global warming, they may run out of habitat in the future.

Díaz has a different school of thought, arguing that other factors may influence blue whale migration. He notes that recent studies indicate whales migrate based on their memory of places they have been to before. He speculates that they may have remembered their ancestral home.

“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” Díaz said.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Pixabay