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Whales and dolphins are suffering from impacts of climate change: report

Right whale female “Fission” ( Catalog #3790 ) with unnamed juvenile male whale Catalog #5191 during an aerial survey over southern New England waters in March 2023.
New England Aquarium, taken under NOAA research permit #25739
Right whale female “Fission” ( Catalog #3790 ) with unnamed juvenile male whale Catalog #5191 during an aerial survey over southern New England waters in March 2023.

Whales and dolphins across the world are suffering because of loss of habitat, relocation of prey, and other consequences of climate change.

That’s the takeaway of a new report, ‘Whales in Hot Water,’ from the advocacy group Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). It explores how climate change has, for dozens of species, disrupted ecosystems, changed where whales go, led to a decline in reproduction, and even an increase in inter-species aggression.

Such are the consequences of increased frequency and severity of marine heatwaves, increased ocean temperatures, extreme weather events, harmful algal blooms, and more

The report highlights a number of case studies, including a local one — critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

“They're moving to different places, and that's actually putting them at significant risk from human impacts because they're moving into places that didn't have any management measures,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of WDC. 

But, Asmutis-Silvia said, if whales are protected, they can help save our warming planet.

“Whales play this incredibly cool role as the ocean gardeners” she said. “[Whales] take their bathroom breaks at the surface and those bathroom breaks are basically fertilizing all of this phytoplankton …  that not only gives you oxygen, but it is the very base of the marine food web.”  

Ultimately, the report argues, protecting whales and dolphins is a nature-based solution to fight climate change and more conservation measures to “re-whale” the ocean pay in dividends.

“It doesn't mean that there aren't other things that we need to do,” she said. “But certainly this is one more piece of the puzzle.”

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.