"The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it." David Attenborough

Climate Change

Humans need to work together to take action to help Earth’s ecosystems stabilize. With the increase of human activity in the industrial era, humans have forgot about the quality of life on the planet, including their own. We cannot wait for others or corporations to make rapid changes that will negatively affect their profits. We each need to do our part to be sustainable in our purchases, activities and lifestyles in our daily lives. We have used our knowledge and become complacent with our practices that have become ways we must change for the betterment of all ecosystems.

Change to the global environment can occur quickly and can sometimes be irreversible when pressures critically exceed thresholds and there is a connection between technology, the interconnectedness of human activity and infrastructure, and a continuous overage in biophysical resources, often known as “tipping points” (Galaz et al, 2016).

Tipping points in our climate has been the result of “corporate industrial waste during a period of rapid economic growth” (Oura et al, 2015). The industrial era which lead to significant levels of greenhouse gas emissions has contributed to global climate change (Oura et al, 2015).

According to Jylha & Akrami (2015), we are aware “human-produced greenhouse gases” have changed the climate but it is suggested it can be mitigated.

Mitigation is critical to prevent irreversible climate damage on humans and ecosystems; however, attempts have not been adequate (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

One reason is that climate change is “disputed or denied by many” with research suggesting a relationship between “climate change denial and social dominance orientation” (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

Some personality traits predispose people to an inclination to accept hierarchical group relations (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

People with low empathy may deny climate change because they are not concerned for people and animals affected by possible negative consequences of climate change, they did not experience themselves (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

Dominant individuals may deny climate change because they do not want to risk their power position over other people and nature (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

Nature dominance mediated the effect of empathy only and is a form of dominance that is taken for granted (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

Social dominance; however, seems to capture both low empathy and dominance (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

Possibly, mitigation efforts could be framed so that they are perceived to not pose a threat to existing social order and are clearly beneficial for everybody (Jylha & Akrami, 2015).

Sustainable development requires the use of natural resource and pressures on the environment to be separated from economic growth and living standard improvements to avoid demands and impacts surpassing global boundaries (Hatfield-Dodds, et al, 2017).

Improved resource productivity is required to achieve this separation; however, the prospective physical and economic implications are not globally understood well (Hatfield-Dodds, et al, 2017).

The knowledge gap will require well planned policies to reduce global resources (Hatfield-Dodds, et al, 2017).

Climate Change And Whales

While we do not daily see whales and the effect climate change has on them, what we do as humans does affect them as we learned in the Human-Whale Interactions section. While marine mammals have been consistent in their actions in the past; climate change is requiring them to change and while humans have evolved to change the world, not all human influences have been positive on ecosystems, especially the marine ecosystem. With threats to whales continuing, such as climate change effects, a higher number of whale losses is expected. This will lead to higher negative influences effecting the planet and humanity.

The effect of human activities on marine mammals is not as obvious as it is on land because the marine environment allows for more movement for large mobile mammals (Galaz et al, 2016),

In the last 50 years sea ice has decreased more rapidly than it would have by natural climate change (Harwood, 2001).

Many of our species may not have the flexibility behaviorally or enough time for coevolving to adapt to the impact of the fast pace of changing climate (Joyce, 2016).

Evidence can be seen in global phenomena, such as the degradation of coral reefs from ocean acidification which also affects:

  • the capacity of the ocean to capture carbon dioxide
  • agroecosystem productivity, our critical Earth systems (Galaz et al, 2016)
  • melting of sea ice in the Arctic
  • changes of beluga distribution and population arrival in summer locations, diet, health decline, contaminant exposure, and shifting prey location resulting from drivers of climate change (Loseto et al, 2018).

The elimination of sperm whales in the Southern Ocean may have reduced the region’s role as a reservoir for carbon (Roman & McCarthy, 2010).

With the warming ocean temperatures, whales are moving to new foraging grounds as their food supply either lessens or is eliminated (Carpenter, 2018).

With changing oceans comes changing plankton availability in Canada and whales arriving in regions sooner than past migration schedules making surveillance efforts start earlier than previously established resulting in the Canadian Government and local fishermen scrambling for the removal of fishing gear in whale sighting location (Doucette, 2018).

Traditional knowledge in the Inupiat community of Wainwright, Alaska, suggests climate change resulting in loss of sea ice determines health and population of species (Christie et al, 2018).

For example:

  • Bowhead whales depend on zooplankton which has had an increase in this area of Alaska resulting in better body condition of the bowhead whale species (Christie et al, 2018).
  • The Endangered North America Right Whale, foraging grounds in Canada changed location in 2018 from the Bay of Fundy to a long swimming route around Nova Scotia for this species to the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Carpenter, 2018).
  • Eastern Beaufort Sea beluga population still travels the same route, there are changes to the time of year of their migrations resulting from climate change effects (Loseto et al, 2018).
  • Social structure for orcas includes residents that remain in an area; however, some migrate (Howard, 2019). While this species migrating whale population has increased, the resident whales are decreasing due to lack of Chinook salmon and pollution (Howard, 2019).
Eastern Beaufort Sea beluga population travelling route (Credit: Loseto et al, 2018)

Prevention of ocean stressors include:

  • early warning and response systems
  • addressing the contributing human-environmental drivers (Galaz et al, 2016).

Indigenous knowledge of whale species and environment spanning across generations can be incorporated into a long-term monitoring system for the environment (Loseto et al, 2018).

Alexander et al (2011) suggests both Indigenous knowledge “with deep understanding and concern for our changing planet” and scientific knowledge should work together for widespread benefits to both communities and in doing so ecosystems.

In the future, ecological processes that affect ecosystems may change, limiting our ability to increase environmental efforts for individual or combined species.

Continuous understanding of species interactions will need further considerations to determine ecological thresholds or mechanisms for resilience with continued ocean acidification (Hughes et al, 2018).

Tulluch et al (2019) suggests warming in the Southern Ocean will affect southern baleen whale species, leading to:

  • population crashes of some populations
  • slow recovery for others by the end of this century.

Model‐estimated whale population trajectories are shown for female population of (a) blue, (b) fin, (c) humpback, (d) southern right and (e) Antarctic minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere and (f) krill biomass predictions, for the Indian/Atlantic area (left) and the Pacific area (right). For whale population estimated (a–e), trajectories are shown for the preferred Model 1 linked to climate drivers (red line), Model 2 that includes sea‐ice links to whale distribution (black line) and the comparison with Model 3 that excludes climate drivers (blue dashed line). For whale trajectories (a–e), cross symbols show survey abundance observations and associated standard errors for the respective regions to which the model was fitted……For krill biomass (f), we show predictions for latitudes 50–60°S (light grey), 60–70°S (grey) and 70–80°S, (black), for climate‐driven Models 1 and 2. There were no krill in latitudes 40–50°S. Note vertical axes have different scales.” (Credit: Tulloch et al, 2019)

Three options to offset future risks include:

  1. reduction of greenhouse gas emissions due to krill biomass changes
  2. setting future sustainable catch limits in the Atlantic/Indian region
  3. reduction of “fishing gear interactions, ship strikes, noise pollution and commercial whale harvest”, with Pacific blue, fin and southern right whale species being the most at risk (Tulloch et al, 2019).

However, without immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the success of other options may be limited (Tulloch et al, 2019).

Video Link: How Whales Change Climate

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Created By
Maria Lisa Polegatto


Created with images by NOAA - "Sperm whale flukes" • Sandra Seitamaa - "untitled image" • Bryan Goff - "When I was on the USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11) we went down to Antarctica on Operation Deep Freeze. Our mission was to break the ice and create a shipping lane for the fuel and cargo ship to resupply the base in McMurdo. While we were breaking ice these killer whales were following us looking for food. If you look at the top of the photo you can see some penguins on the sheet ice, that’s who they were looking for. I hope you enjoyed! I’m on IG @65_bomber Stop by and say hi!" • jesse orrico - "Transparent skull model" • Paul Gilmore - "Shot taken in Sagres, Portugal in Tonel beach. A very popular beach among the surfer community. They are actually included in the frame, if you zoom far enough." • Kool C - "The tide was low and the sun was setting. The calm breeze off the water was nice." • Todd Cravens - "untitled image" • Marla Prusik - "untitled image" • James Rathmell - "untitled image" • Megane Delhaie - "The details of fishermen" • Paweł Czerwiński - "I noticed this impressive “cloud generator” and on that sunny afternoon, I decided to find the spot to take a shot. Located at some ugly industrial area and yeah, I stamped the ugliness out in Photoshop ;)"