For the first time, marine biologists were able to successfully document the migratory destination of an eastern South Pacific blue whale.
With the help of blue whale Isabella, scientists may now be able to conduct further studies to analyze further migratory and breeding patterns of the world's largest animal.
Scientists know relatively little about blue whales, with only about 10,000 of them left. However, Isabella's travels take us a step closer to finding out where exactly they normally go to breed.
Chile's Blue Whale Center/Universidad Austral de Chile, NOAA and the Wildlife Conservation Society applied DNA profiling and photo-identification to track down the whereabouts of Isabella as she travelled thousands of miles from Chile to Ecuador and back. Findings were published online in Marine Mammal Science.
Isabella journeyed from the Chilean coast - her home feeding grounds - to the waters of Galapagos where scientists now believe blue whales go to breed during winter; her documented travels covered about 3,100 miles. For blue whales, this is the longest ever documented migratory movement from north to south. During the summer, blue whales say and feed in the Gulf of Corcovado in Chile.
"Efforts to protect blue whales and other ocean-going species will always fall short without full knowledge of a species' migratory range," said Universidad Austral de Chile and Blue Whale Center's Juan Pablo Torres-Florez, the study's lead author.
Torres-Florez encouraged governments of the eastern south Pacific to come up with guidelines and designate protected marine areas, to help conserve blue whales and other migratory species. He emphasized the importance of Isabella in pointing out researchers towards the right direction for future studies.
The researchers also wanted to establish a link between blue whales in the Gulf of Corcovado ad other regions. Using biopsy darts, they collected DNA samples from the skin of the large mammals roaming the eastern south Pacific. With photographs and recorded sightings, the team attempted to connect and compare individual animals to those in different regions.
The team found a couple of related blue whales from different regions. A female white sampled off the southern Chilean coast from 2006 was found to have the same features as that of a same whale sampled eight years earlier, off the Galapagos waters.
The researchers have not found evidence of Isabella producing any young, but hope to further understand the breeding patterns of this large marine animal.