Portoroz: While today the world was awaiting the decision of the International Whaling Commission on a way forward regarding Japan´s scientific whaling, delegates in Slovenia have just made environmental history by deciding on a highly unusual and groundbreaking proposal. They were asked to consider whales as essential contributors to a healthy marine ecosystem and climate.
“This proposal not only helps catapult the IWC into the 21st Century but sends a strong signal to policy makers around the globe that we need a new relationship with whales”, says Astrid Fuchs, WDC’s Stop Whaling Programme Lead.
Proposed by Chile and co-sponsored by Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Uruguay, the “Draft Resolution on Cetaceans and Their Contributions to Ecosystem Functioning”, asks delegates to consider whales in terms of the contribution they provide to the marine environment. Evidence is mounting that whales are an essential part of our shared ecosystem.
For example, we now understand that they transfer nutrients within the water column and across latitudes. Because whales feed at depth but defecate at the surface, they recycle and move nutrients to the surface waters where they are available to the tiny plantlike organisms called phytoplankton. As large whales migrate, they continue to free nutrients mobilizing their ecological value for drifting phytoplankton, which are the very base of the marine food web on which all fish stocks ultimately rely. They are also responsible for the production of at least half of the world’s oxygen.
Secondly, whales help combat climate change. Carbon sequestration, or the removal of carbon from the atmosphere is a primary mitigation to climate change for which whales can play a significant role. The eventual sinking of phytoplankton blooms resulting from whale nutrient availability can sequester hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon annually. Furthermore whale falls, which occur when a whale dies of natural causes and sinks, are the largest form of natural waste on the ocean bottom. These falls not only result in the development of mini-ecosystems, but also sequester large amounts of carbon. Researchers estimate that as a direct result of whaling, large whales now store approximately 9 million tons less carbon than before whaling.
WDC believes that there are no thresholds of killing whales that we should consider sustainable. “We should not be having conversations about managing whale stocks, we should only be talking about how we can promote and enable their recovery as our survival may well depend on theirs,” Fuchs concludes.
Research continues to show that the recovery of whales is an important step in the fight against climate change and the Chilean resolution is a vital step towards the global understanding and appreciating of the role whales play in maintaining healthy oceans, healthy fish stocks and even a healthy planet. As noted by the Belgian IWC Commissioner addressing IWC66, the whales “are important for all of us, ecologically, they are our partners instead of our competitors. Conserving them is helping us save ourselves.”