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.