The coastal waters of the Falkland Islands have been confirmed as a Key Biodiversity Area for Sei whales, the first of its kind in the world. The announcement comes after five years of surveys carried out in Falklands waters by Falklands Conservation.
The Falklands-based NGO said the surveys have been made possible by the seasonal return of Sei Whales to the islands’ coastal waters, a phenomenon which it describes as ‘virtually unique for this species.’
Sei whales, which typically inhabit offshore, deep-water areas, are still classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened species. The project that contributed to the KBA designation has confirmed that many sei whales use Falklands waters as summer feeding grounds, returning every year to feed on swarms of tiny crustaceans.
Much of the study involved identifying individuals through photographs of the fins and flanks and comparing unique scars and colour patterns. According to Falklands Conservation, as many as 500 individuals have been identified during the five-year study, and one individual was found to have migrated a straight line distance of 3,300km in six months from Brazil to the Falkland Islands.
Dr Caroline Weir, Sei Whale Project lead for Falklands Conservation said, “We are incredibly proud of achieving this Key Biodiversity Area for endangered Sei whales, which is the culmination of five years of pioneering and challenging field research that has really highlighted the importance of the Falkland Islands for this poorly-known species. It’s a privilege to work in an area where whale populations appear to be thriving, and fantastic to now see that work translating into global recognition and contributing to the future conservation of these amazing animals.”
Dr Esther Bertram, CEO of Falklands Conservation, added, “This programme firmly establishes the Falkland Islands on the map for whales worldwide. As a community, we can regularly enjoy watching these whales all along the coasts, and it is a source of great pride and inspiration that they choose to spend part of their nomadic life here. It is critical that we continue to be world-leading in providing a safe haven in our abundant pristine waters, balancing the needs of these amazing animals with the human activities that support so many livelihoods within the local community.”
Robust data and assessment
Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are designated by the Key Biodiversity Area Partnership, a consortium of 13 global conservation organisations, by means of a process of robust data assessment according to strict scientific criteria. The partnership describes these places as ‘places on the planet that are critical for the survival of unique plants and animals, and the ecological communities they comprise.’
Although Key Biodiversity Areas are not a legislative designation, they are an important mark of recognition, say Falklands Conservation. ‘The wider conservation context of this research and KBA recognition is the reflection of how nature-rich Falkland waters are, and how careful management and conservation is needed. The coastal waters of the Falkland Islands are virtually undamaged by human activity, and the Islands are a globally important site for cetaceans and other marine mammals, giant kelp forests, and seabirds including albatrosses and over a million penguins. Careful management by Government, Industry and the wider community can ensure that environmentally-sensitive human activities can occur alongside a vibrant, healthy, and diverse marine ecosystem,’ the NGO said.