Whales and dolphins are often overlooked by decision-makers, despite playing essential roles in ecosystems that keep every being on Earth alive, including you and me. I’ve just returned from a global meeting where I urged governments to take action to prioritise the protection of all our non-human climate heroes before it’s too late.
Whales and dolphins keep the ocean healthy and full of life. They are our enormous allies in the fight against the climate crisis and the destruction of nature. As they go about their daily activities like eating, sleeping, travelling, and resting, whales and dolphins cycle nutrients throughout the ocean and help to remove carbon as they go. They provide a natural solution to the climate and biodiversity crisis by helping the ocean absorb more carbon than all of Earth’s forests combined, so it’s vital we protect them.
I was proud to represent these magnificent climate giants at the recent meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, more commonly known as CITES. It’s an agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. So, given that whales and dolphins are crucial partners in our battle against the climate crisis, we delivered a strong message to the government representatives at CITES: save the whale, save the world.
You and I know that whales are key to ensuring a healthier and more resilient planet, but for those in government, the idea is a little more abstract. In their arena, action usually occurs on a species-by-species basis. For example, at the previous CITES meeting I attended, I advocated for better protection of narwhals, and discussions will quickly move from whales to elephants to sea cucumbers then cheetahs. But we’re all interconnected and we need species to be considered as part of something larger.
New research is appearing all the time that shows how wild animals are natural climate solutions. The movement may have started with whales, but over the last 10 years, it’s grown to encompass a wide range of species. Elephants, sharks, and primates help mitigate climate change simply by going about their day to day lives; they disperse the seeds of trees with carbon-dense wood, they trample and disturb forest floors clearing a space for plants to grow, and their poo provides vital nutrients that facilitate new life. The list of non-human allies is growing all the time and the call to integrate these natural climate solutions into policy is getting louder
A rainforest can't function without jaguars, toucans, monkeys and anteaters. An ocean can't function without whales, dolphins, fish and corals.
Species must be protected for their own sake, but they must also be conserved for the roles they play in their ecosystems and the ways they contribute to our shared planet’s health, and we’re building the networks and connections that will help create this change. At this meeting, we teamed up with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) to co-host a side event to highlight this very issue. We brought along friends from ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Blue Resources Trust, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and the World Maritime University, all of whom are making great strides in untangling the mysteries of how species impact their ecosystems and to what extent. Our event highlighted the need for big, ambitious thinking, and the importance of collaboration between researchers and policymakers when making management decisions.
Together, we highlighted the importance of protecting species and the important roles they play.
Unfortunately, the role of species in ecosystems is largely ignored during the implementation of CITES agreements. It’s too difficult a topic for most to wrestle with, and there is a complete absence of knowledge for many species. But we need to scale-up efforts on all natural climate solutions to solve the crisis. And, to do so, we must protect diverse, vibrant populations of wild animals, so they can maintain their roles in ecosystems. When we know the importance of wild animals to global planetary crises, like the ones we’re facing, we must ensure they are embedded into policy decisions.
We need a diverse range of species to ensure the future of our planet.
Thanks to the help of our supporters, we participate in these high-level meetings where critical decisions are made. As official observers, we made sure our message was heard: CITES must consider not just the sustainability of a species but its role in its ecosystem before trade is permitted. With an issue as complex as this, uptake will never be instant. But we are committed to bringing about change.
We will be attending the biggest climate event of the year – COP28 – in December to highlight the fact that the climate crisis threatens all life on Earth, but nature’s climate allies, such as whales, dolphins and porpoises, are offering us a helping hand. We must not ignore them – our future depends on them.
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If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us convince governments to save the whale to save the world.