New map and report expose growing dangers along whale ‘highways’ around the world

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NEWPORT, Ore. – A comprehensive new map and report on the migrations of whales around the world highlights where they go on the high seas and the cumulative impacts the animals face from industrial fishing, collisions with ships , pollution, habitat loss and climate change.

“Protecting Blue Corridors” was developed through the collaborative analysis of 30 years of scientific data provided by more than 50 research groups, with leading marine scientists from Oregon State University, University of California, Santa Cruz, the University of Southampton and others.

The report, released today by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ahead of World Whale Day on February 20, provides a visualization of the satellite tracks of 845 migrating whales around the world. The report also describes how whales face multiple and growing threats in their critical ocean habitats – the areas where they feed, mate, give birth and nurse their young – and along their migration highways, or corridors. blue.

“With years of data from Oregon State satellite tracking studies, pioneered by marine mammal researcher Bruce Mate, we are seeing migrations through domestic and international waters creating conservation challenges for recovery of populations,” said report co-author Daniel Palacios, associate professor of whale watching. habitats with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. The institute is part of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Mate, now retired, is the former director.

The cumulative impacts of human activities create a dangerous and sometimes deadly obstacle course for marine species, said Chris Johnson, global head of whale and dolphin conservation at WWF.

“By far the deadliest is entanglement in fishing gear – killing an estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises every year. Worse still, it’s happening from the Arctic to Antarctica. he said.

Six of the 13 species of great whales are now listed as threatened or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, even after decades of protection from commercial whaling. Among these populations most at risk is the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, which migrates between Canada and the United States. It is at its lowest point in 20 years – numbering just 336 individuals.

It is estimated that approximately 86% of right whales identified have been entangled in fishing gear at least once in their lifetime. Between 2017 and 2021, 34 North Atlantic right whales died off the coasts of Canada and the United States following ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear.

Palacios is an expert in studying whale movements in relation to environmental conditions and human threats. His contribution to the report focused on the eastern Pacific Ocean.

“For a report of this nature, it was necessary to integrate the data and expertise of many colleagues doing similar work in other parts of the world,” he said. “For the first time, we were able to map whale migrations on a global scale and identify their highways. This map will become a key ocean variable for a number of efforts to assess biodiversity change and will inform key policy initiatives such as the upcoming high seas treaty under the United Nations Convention on the Right to the sea. “

Protecting blue corridors calls for a new conservation approach to address these growing threats and to safeguard whales through enhanced cooperation at local, regional and international levels. Engagement with the United Nations, which is expected to finalize negotiations on a new treaty for the high seas in March 2022, is particularly urgent.

“As a researcher, this report provides a science-based visual guide to help inform effective management and decisions to create networks of marine protected areas to ensure whales have every chance to thrive,” said said Ari Friedlaender, a whale ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was previously an associate professor at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.

The benefits of protected blue corridors extend far beyond whales. A growing body of evidence points to the critical role whales play in maintaining the health of the oceans and the global climate – with one whale capturing the same amount of carbon as thousands of trees. The International Monetary Fund estimates the value of a single great whale at more than $2 million, which is more than $1 trillion for the current world population of great whales.

Read the full report online here: https://wwfwhales.org/resources/protecting-blue-corridors-report.

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