(Jun 1, 2007)

Whale forum fails to address global warming

By Yereth Rosen
From Reuters

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - An international forum this week on the fate of the world's whales barely addressed what scientists consider one of the most serious threats to marine life: global warming.

A warming climate threatens food sources in Antarctic waters for the world's largest creature and has been linked to unusual migration patterns and the strange behavior of whales off Alaska's coast, scientists say.

A proposed International Whaling Commission resolution expressing concerns about global warming and its impact on whales never came up for a vote. The group opted instead for a climate change conference at some point in the future.

"In light of the massive impacts that stand to be made on whales and their habitat, we would have liked this body to take action on that and express their concern," said Patrick Ramage, whale program manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"This forum is still kind of stuck in 1946, where they're debating whether whales should be harpooned or not."

Delegates from pro- and anti-whaling countries also voiced concern the ideological division over commercial whaling was crippling the IWC's ability to address the many threats facing whales.

"I thought that the commission might say something because this is certainly the biggest threat to all of us -- whales, aboriginal people, you, me," said Mark Simmonds, senior scientist at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and a member of the IWC's science committee.


The difficulty in addressing the problem, according to scientists, is trying to isolate the factors combining to affect whale habitats, such as pollution or climate change.

"The problem is we don't understand the ecosystem well enough," said Greg Donovan, the committee's chief of science, noting the conference on climate change may shed more light on the topic.

Whales from the Arctic appear to have altered some of their migration patterns, while ice-dependent whales in Antarctica might be losing some of their primary food, krill, and their overall habitat, said Donovan.

In addition, whales swimming in temperate climates might find the location of their prime habitats shifting due to warming water.

Whales used to migrate to the Arctic for only the long-daylight days of summer, but they are arriving earlier and staying longer, said officials from Alaska's North Slope Borough, the government for the state's northernmost region.

"We've even documented whale singing in the dead of winter, in January and February," said North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta.

This past winter, borough officials detected some gray whales that instead of making normal migrations to the sunny south, apparently spent the winter in the waters northeast of Barrow, the northernmost U.S. community.

Scientists trying to save endangered shorebird »
« Famous polar bear growing into an adult

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter