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PRESS RELEASE
Contact: Ian Hart, Pacific Institute

Institute Report Concludes that Global Warming May Be One of Gravest Threats to Whales this Century

July 11, 2000, Oakland, California. In a new Institute report released today (From the Harpoon to the Heat: Climate Change and the International Whaling Commission in the 21st Century), concludes that while the world focuses on the threat to whales from commercial harvesting, a silent killer, global warming, may prove a far more imposing threat to the future viability of many species.

As a consequence primarily of the burning of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent assessment projects that temperatures will rise 3-5 degrees F or more over the next century. The Institute's report, authored by Institute Research Associate William Burns, concludes that this could prove disastrous this century for many species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). In the Antarctic, where 90% of the world's great whales feed, rising temperatures could reduce sea ice by more than 40% in the next century. This may severely deplete the abundance of krill, a zooplankton species that are the primary source of food for whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Arctic, warming trends could result in the total disappearance of the region's year-round icepack within the next fifty years, diminishing the abundance of phytoplankton species relied on by endangered whale species such as narwhal and beluga. Reductions in sea ice could also open up the Northwest Passage, exposing species in the region to increased ship traffic and threats associated with mineral exploitation. In other regions of the world, warming may also alter ocean upwelling patterns, creating massive blooms of toxics associated with the death of thousands of marine species over the past decade, as well as increase precipitation in some regions, resulting in the runoff of more pollutants from land into coastal waterways inhabited by whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Unfortunately, Burns contends, the primary body charged with protection of whales, the International Whaling is ill equipped to deal with this threat. "The International Whaling Commission's research programs are woefully under-funded by the parties to the treaty, and many of the parties are resisting any effort by the Commission to confront problems such as climate change and pollution because of continuing battles about commercial harvesting of whales," Burns concludes. Burns also argues that the failure of the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change to agree to meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions ensures that whales and other species will become increasingly imperiled over the next century. The study outlines the level of commitment to greenhouse gas emission reductions that would be required to avert disaster for cetaceans.

The full report is available online at: http://www.pacinst.org/press_center/IWCOP.pdf or by contacting us.

The Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment & Security is an independent, non-profit research group in Oakland, California.

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