Researchers from Pacific Whale Foundation are part of an international team from five countries and six universities involved in the first global research project kicking off today that studies how ocean changes influence the recovery of whale populations in the southern hemisphere. The ultimate goal is to create a model for whale distributions under future climate-change scenarios and investigate changes influencing population status and conservation of humpback whales.
“Pacific Whale Foundation’s research in Australia started in 1984 and has spanned numerous locations along the East Australia coast, resulting in great coverage through space and time, which is important for migratory species,” notes Stephanie Stack, PWF’s Chief Biologist. “I am excited to contribute our research data on humpback whales to this important and timely large-scale assessment. Although there has been remarkable recovery of humpback whales in the southern hemisphere, climate change is a very significant threat and we do not yet understand how resilient whales are to changing climates and oceans.”
Professor Brendan Mackey, Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program and Co-Director of the Whales and Climate research, states that the five-year research program would establish a fundamental understanding of how changing ocean conditions were influencing the recovery of humpback whale populations.
“The project will also develop adaptation scenarios for advancing whale conservation policies and programs,” Professor Mackey explains. “Climate change is drastically altering ecosystems and our oceans are experiencing fast changes, affecting all marine life.”
He said the project will also lead to improved understanding of the role whales play as climate engineers, driving carbon out of the atmosphere and into sinks on the ocean floor and thus function, and their role as ecosystem engineers contributing to ocean productivity.
More than 25 researchers are part of the five-year project.
The lead team comprises the following climate scientists, marine ecologists and oceanographers:
• Griffith University (Australia): Professor Brendan Mackey, Dr. Olaf Meynecke, Dr. Serena Lee and Dr. Jasper De Bie
• Stellenbosch University (South Africa): Professor Alakendra Roychoudhury, Dr. Jan Lukas Menzel, Dr. Suamik Samanta
• University of Cape Town (South Africa): Professor Marcello Vichi, Dr. Subhra Dey, Dr. Abdoulkadri Chama
• Cape Peninsula University of Technology (South Africa): Professor Ken Findlay, Dr. Elisa Seyboth
• Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (Brazil): Professor Eduardo R. Secchi, Professor Luciano Dalla Rosa, Dr. Pedro Fruet, Dr. Rodrigo Genoves
• Pontific Catholic University of Ecuador (Ecuador): Dr. Fernando Felix
• Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama): Dr. Héctor Guzmán
• CEQUA Foundation (Chile): Dr.(c) Jorge Acevedo and Dr. Esther Jiménez
Griffith University with the Climate Change Response Program is leading the project coordination and Australian studies in coupled ocean modelling, whale movement and biology, climate change impacts, and natural resource management and conservation policy.
Whale researcher, and the manager of this project, Dr Olaf Meynecke reveals that many whale populations were now in the process of recovering following over-exploitation by the whaling industry, but whales were now facing the next big challenge: climate change.
“The latest research on whales and climate change around the world is showing increased strandings, entanglements, reduced calving and migration shifts which have partially been attributed to ocean warming in the latest research findings,” explains Dr. Meynecke.
Weighing in from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Professor Ken Findlay adds, “This is one of the first projects investigating historic long-term datasets with views of modelling future scenarios in Southern Hemisphere multiple regions.”
The research team from CPUT is diving deep into these historic datasets to identify variations in seasonal abundance and distribution of the whales that can be linked to the biogeochemical changes occurring in the Southern Ocean.
“The combination of historic whale catch data and contemporary whale sightings with ocean numerical models represents a powerful tool to understand changes in whale distributions and to validate the models as well,” says Associate Professor Marcello Vichi, the leader of the South African modeling team from the University of Cape Town.
The research teams from Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Panama are investigating detailed movement of the South American west coast humpback whale population that migrates to feeding grounds in cold waters of southern Chile and Antarctic Peninsula during the austral summer.
“The western Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing one of the highest rates of global warming and there is strong scientific evidence that this warming is affecting the ecosystem,” observes Professor Eduardo Secchi of Federal University of Rio Grande. “Our research wants to assess the effect this climate change is having on whale distribution and their recovery after the long period of exploitation in the first half of the 20th century.”
Multiple research cruises and field work is scheduled for the feeding and breeding grounds of target populations in Antarctic and the coastlines of the southern continents (Australia, Africa, and South America) under the Whales and Climate Research Program.
The humpback whale migration models and reports developed during the five-year lifetime of the Whales and Climate Change Research Program will be accessible on the research programs web portal at www.whalesandclimate.org.
ABOUT PACIFIC WHALE FOUNDATION
Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF), an international NGO and global pioneer in sustainable ecotourism, has been dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans and marine life since Greg Kaufman founded the nonprofit organization on Maui, Hawai‘i in 1980 in an effort to save a declining humpback whale population from global threats such as commercial whaling.
Conservation efforts in Hervey Bay, Australia began in 1984 when Kaufman visited the area as part of a documentary film project. Realizing that the area was a critical resting place for humpback whale mothers and calves heading back to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic, Kaufman and his team resolved then and there to expand their focus to Australia where they would learn even more about these majestic animals.
In the 30-plus years since, Pacific Whale Foundation has amassed some of the largest humpback whale catalogues in the world. PWF researchers study humpback whales in Hawai’i, East Australia and Ecuador. Through its ongoing dedicated efforts, PWF provides invaluable humpback whale research in support of the nonprofit’s overall mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy and inspire environmental stewardship.
Image courtesy www.whalesandclimate.org