New report highlights value of whales to the planet

A new report, supported by WDC, has been released today and reveals the enormous ecological benefits that whales provide to the environment.

The report is the product of a workshop supported by the Chilean and Belgium governments that took place during the 2017 International Congress for Conservation Biology in Colombia, the first time the issue of how whales are essential contributors to a healthy marine eco-system had been discussed at such an international conference.

The report documents how whale faeces, rich in iron, nitrogen and other nutrients, trigger phytoplankton blooms in the ocean that increase the productivity of the entire marine food web.

Even in death, whales sustain life. When whales die naturally they sink to the seabed, where they become mini-ecosystems sustaining all manner of marine life. Whale carcasses fight climate change, taking huge amounts of carbon with them to the ocean floor and researchers estimate that as a direct result of whale hunting, large whales now store approximately nine million tons less carbon than before large-scale whaling.

The report also explores how these and other ecological services provided by whales could be used in national and international conservation policy, including within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Whaling Commission (IWC – the body that regulates whale hunting). In 2016, the IWC adopted a ground-breaking resolution recognizing the ecological contributions made by whales to the ecosystem.

WDC believes that there are no thresholds that we should consider sustainable when it comes to killing whales. According to Astrid Fuchs, WDC's Stop Whaling programme lead, ‘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 depends on theirs. It is good to see governments beginning to acknowledge the importance of whales for healthy oceans and the planet.’

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Infographics depicting how whales eat at depth and defecate near the surface, allowing the whale poo to feed the phytoplankton.