To assess large whale stocks following the cessation of land-based South Georgia whaling in 1965, we report three independent sighting databases: a cruise in 1997, observations from Bird Island (NW of South Georgia) between 1979 and 1998, and mariner sightings between 1992 and 1997. All species were rare, with southern right whale sightings being the most common event. Two right whales photographed off South Georgia matched animals known from Peninsula Valdes, Argentina, a population known to be growing at 7% per annum. In contrast, blue and fin whales appear to be less abundant. A single blue whale mother-calf pair was observed off the Shag Rocks in February 1997. Extirpation of animals from this particular feeding ground is the most likely reason for ongoing low numbers of all species. Other factors may include: competition for krill by traditional predators such as penguins and seals and more recently by humans, an unusually high rate of natural mortality, habitat change such as alteration in sea ice coverage, and/or the impact of ongoing whaling. The history of this critical area of large-whale habitat and this report demonstrate the need for improved, consistent long-term monitoring of population trends for these depleted stocks.
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