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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Whales in Hot Water: The Impact of Climate Change on the Cryosphere’s Climate Engineers: Cetaceans

Whale Pump diagram cycling carbon to deep ocean storage

There are many benefits to conserving whales including biodiversity and carbon sequestration benefits. They are another biological Nature based solution to addressing climate change.

Whale numbers were decimated through the 19th and 20th centuries from commercial whale hunting. Many species are still recovering from this slaughter.

Among the recommendations, is the need to "Accelerate efforts to stop the expansion of new fossil fuel production and commit to a phaseout of existing fossil fuel production in order to reach net-zero by 2050."

Launch video from COP28.

"Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) will launch a report on the climate change impacts on cetaceans at this event, along with how they can act as a nature-based solution to climate change, increasing biodiversity and ecosystem system resilience throughout their ranges, but particularly in polar regions. The panel will discuss initiatives to recover whale populations and protect Important Marine Mammal Areas, highlighting successes and impending serious threats."

Here is the Executive Summary of Whales in hot water. How climate change is impacting whales and dolphins and why we need to re-whale the ocean to achieve climate goals.

Whales and dolphins are victims of the effects of climate change.

Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are acutely vulnerable and exposed to suffering the long and short-term consequences of climate change which are already impacting populations and threatening their very survival.

By contrast, whales and dolphins are also helping us to mitigate climate change impacts. The indispensable role that wild animals, including cetaceans, play in ecosystem functioning and the carbon-positive roles that they provide for climate change mitigation receives far less attention than trees and vegetated habitats. As such, they are insufficiently recognised in international policy discussions. Habitats and the populations of animals that live within them simply do not function in the way that they could, to help us regulate the climate.

Restoring populations of these majestic marine mammals can play a valuable role in the fight against climate change and wider biodiversity loss.

Whales and dolphins exploit a huge range of differing habitats. From the cold polar regions to the world’s greatest rivers, different species of cetaceans are incredibly well adapted to their surroundings.

The wellbeing of these animals is highly dependent on their habitats meeting their particular needs.

Cetaceans with restricted geographical distributions and limited habitat tolerances will find it especially hard to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Anthropogenic induced climate change is causing rapid and long-term temperature increases and extreme fluctuations, as well as catalysing impacts on the ocean with disastrous consequences, not only for whales and dolphins, but for local ecosystems and human lives too.

From the perspective of whales and dolphins, climate change is directly causing:

■ Increased frequency and severity of marine heatwaves

■ Increases to seawater and river temperature

■ Degradation and loss of cetacean habitat

■ Relocation and/or reduction of their prey

■ Extreme weather events, such as flooding leading to dangerous runoff

■ Harmful algal blooms

■ Deoxygenation of the ocean and oceanic dead zones

■ Favourable conditions for the spread of disease

The impacts of changing ocean and river temperatures, increased pollutants, toxins, algae and sediment deposits, altered hydrology, oxygen loss, and a reduction in the availability and quality of food, is leading to the following consequences for whales and dolphins:

■ disrupting established ecosystems

■ altered population distributions

■ declining reproductive success

■ increasing mass mortality events

■ lower immunity and rising prevalence of injury and disease

■ reduced prey abundance and quality

■ rapid shifts in suitable habitat

■ increased inter-species aggression

The effects of climate change on cetaceans described in this report comprise of changes that are abiotic and biotic. As climate-induced alterations affect both the living and non-living parts of the ocean ecosystem, the entirety of whales’ and dolphins’ environment is impacted. This is further compounded by the effect of existing anthropogenic threats on whales and dolphins and means that climate change will increasingly continue to harm individual animals and whole populations by undermining their welfare, survivability, health and reproductive success. Ultimately, this is threatening multiple species with imminent extinction.

Re-whale = the notion of helping to return the number of whales and dolphins to their pre-whaling populations.

In a world that is increasingly impacted by climate change and wider anthropogenic threats, the future of whales and dolphins is uncertain. This report demonstrates why it is in the best interest of governments, businesses and individuals to take action and support measures that protect cetaceans due to their important roles in assisting with ecosystem functioning, biodiversity support and climate mitigation and the multiple co-benefits associated with doing so.

When considering the highly pervasive impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems and species, it is essential that urgent and meaningful action is taken to ensure that whales and dolphins thrive by limiting global carbon emissions, implementing robust safeguards to protect the ocean from environmental harm, and removing other anthropogenic threats that whales and dolphins face.

Wherever you look, humans – deliberately or not – are making the ocean and rivers more and more perilous for whales and dolphins to live. This report demonstrates how climate induced issues are being compounded by other anthropogenic threats facing whales and dolphins. Cumulative pressures are a major contributor to the increasing vulnerability and wellbeing of many populations.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) strongly believes that humans have the potential, passion and creativity to find solutions to the problems we are creating. We believe in the power of individuals, businesses and governments make a change to save our natural world. Whales and dolphins need people, in all their diversity, all over the world, to take meaningful action to protect the ocean and to remove the threats they face. We all have a part to play in protecting whales and dolphins and WDC calls on you to help us re-whale the ocean. Together, we can safeguard the future of these critical species, and reap the climate and biodiversity benefits they bring.

The report emphasises climate ambition is essential to whale conservation.


Governments must:

  • Reduce GHG emissions as agreed in the Paris Agreement and set ambitious new targets to draw down residual atmospheric carbon.
  • Accelerate efforts to stop the expansion of new fossil fuel production and commit to a phaseout of existing fossil fuel production in order to reach net-zero by 2050.
  • Ensure that the infrastructure and funding needed for the energy transition is responsibly delivered with adaptive measures to reduce impacts and restore biodiversity.
  • Invest in research to enable the inclusion of ocean and wildlife population restoration into Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans.

Industries should:

  • Engage with business initiatives to create linked programmes of climate mitigation and biodiversity recovery, such as Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD).
  • Not wait for regulation but drive forward actions to meet and exceed the Paris Agreement and goals and targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework


Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Whales in hot water, 8 December, 2023,

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