Climate impacts on Pacific whales quantified

By on 27 February, 2019

For the first time, scientists have linked climate change to krill levels and how this will affect whale populations across the Southern Hemisphere, including humpbacks, blue and minke whales. Image by Humberto Braojos.

New research has quantified the impacts on Australian whale populations from the reduction in krill levels caused by climate change.

A study conducted by the University of Queensland and the CSIRO has modelled future marine scenarios to demonstrate how rising ocean temperatures will affect krill in Australian waters.

Data on ocean temperature, primary productivity and sea-ice were used in the modelling with CSIRO’s Model of Intermediate Complexity for Ecosystem Assessment (MICE) to demonstrate the criticality of krill in sustaining populations of humpbacks, blue and minke whales, still recovering after the impact of whaling in the last century.

“Our modelling took into consideration the slow population growth rates of whales, the connection between life history and water temperatures, and dependency on prey to highlight the need for ongoing protection of already depleted whale populations,” said Dr. Éva Plagányi, CSIRO senior scientist and co-author of the paper.

Scientist Dr. Viv Tulloch, who led the study, said this research was the first to link climate change to the future of krill, and top assess how this could affect whales in the Southern hemisphere.

“Krill is the main food source for whales, so we linked possible changes to krill levels in our southern oceans based on high carbon emissions predictions to whale populations in these areas,” Dr Tulloch said.

“We found that the impacts on whale species could differ, depending on the region and where they feed. Whale populations in the Pacific Ocean, particularly Blue, Southern Right and Fin whales, could have less krill to feed on than those found in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.”

The paper, Future recovery of baleen whales is imperiled by climate change, is publicly available online.

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