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We’re taking steps to uncover the mysteries of whales

Vicki James

Vicki James

Vicki is WDC's protected areas coordinator, she helps to create safe ocean spaces for whales and dolphins to swim freely. Vicki also leads our Green Whale science work to identify and fill gaps in our whale and dolphin knowledge.

Whales are more than just remarkable beings – they are essential in our battle against the climate crisis and loss of nature. To convince governments to prioritize their protection, we need to provide them with more evidence that whales are our climate allies. This year, alongside my colleagues at WDC, I undertook a series of walking challenges to raise funds for our Climate Giants Project that aims to unlock these mysteries.

 

Whales undertake epic migrations that can cover hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles of ocean. As they travel, they transport vital nutrients around the world on a massive scale through their poo, urine, milk and when they shed their skin. By doing this they act like ocean gardeners, fertilizing microscopic plants called phytoplankton and releasing nutrients that help the ocean flourish. These microscopic plants absorb vast amounts of carbon and produce oxygen.

With the climate crisis accelerating at such an alarming rate, governments need to make ocean protection a priority before it’s too late. For governments to take action and make the policy changes that we’re asking for, we need to fill some knowledge and evidence gaps, and fast.

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) Gray whales in Pacific lagoon Baja California Mexico.
Gray whales can migrate up to 20,000 kilometers per year, moving nutrients around the world on a massive scale.

Our Climate Giants Project intends to do exactly that. We aim to unlock the secrets of how whales and dolphins benefit the world's climate, biodiversity and economies, and gather the evidence that proves just how important these magnificent beings are for our future. But we need to secure funding to keep this vital project going. Recognizing the urgent need for this information, my colleague Ed Goodall and I decided to take on a challenge to help raise funds towards these ground-breaking research projects.

A whale of a walk

Understanding that whales’ incredible journeys are key for healthy marine ecosystems and combatting climate change inspires me, and by taking on a long-distance challenge of my own, in some small way, I felt as though I was returning the favor.

The first in my series of walks kicked off on April Fool’s Day (says it all). What was supposed to be a 25- kilometer (15.53 mile) countryside walk around Windsor turned into wading through mud and floods and was nicknamed ‘bog snorkeling'! But this didn’t stop me. Most recently, on a dark and, at times, very wet Halloween night I took to the streets of London for my final challenge. Dressed in pumpkin leggings, light-up bat tutu and with spiders all over my face, I walked a grueling 25 kilometers, joined by my two brave colleagues, Emily Armstrong and Luke McMillan. Together with hundreds of other people, we walked through the night, past the lit-up iconic sights of London, and with cheers of encouragement from the public we completed the Halloween Walk Ultra Challenge in six hours.

Vicki, Luke and Emily in fancy dress for their Halloween fundraising walk
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Our supporters and the magnificent beings that are crucial to our existence were at the forefront of our minds every step of the way.

Across a series of walks, I have covered more than 91 kilometers (56.54 miles), and combined with Ed’s Isle of Wight challenge, we travelled an astounding 205 kilometers (127.38 miles) between us. But this is minuscule in comparison to the distance that some whales cover in their annual migrations. Humpback whales undertake some of the longest migrations between their cold, nutrient-rich feeding grounds in Alaska, and their warmer breeding grounds in Hawaii, they can travel more than 4,800 kilometers (2,982.58 miles). I’d need a few more pairs of shoes, and a lot more training to match that!

Joe, Kira, Chris and Ed selfie by the needles in the Isle of Wight
Joe, Kira, Chris and Ed walked the 120 kilometer Isle of Wight coastal path, kicking off fittingly at Whale Chine.

What kept our feet moving, and gave us purpose, was knowing that we received so much support from you all. We raised a total of £8,188 ($10,217.50) towards our three groundbreaking research projects, bringing us a step closer to understanding the pivotal role whales play in keeping the ocean healthy and fighting climate change.

Fin whale head
We need a healthy ocean and a healthy ocean needs whales.

Your donations may contribute to purchasing the 10 weights we need to sink a whale carcass to the seabed. This might sound a little peculiar, but it would provide detailed information about the vast array of species that whale carcasses support as they decompose, proving that they are key to reversing the loss of nature. Or they may help fund our AnimOcean project which will use the latest technology to measure, for the first time ever, just how much carbon whales and dolphins capture and lock away. And whilst we’ve uncovered a significant amount of information about the mysteries of whales, we can’t forget about their smaller cousins, dolphins. Given that they do many similar things, it’s more than likely dolphins are helping in huge ways too, but just like with whales, we need to prove it. The possibility that the donations from our walking challenges could help uncover their secrets fills me with pride.

When whales die they help lock away huge amounts of carbon
Blue whale © Andrew Sutton
Spotted dolphin (stenella frontalis) Spotted dolphin in the clear waters of the Atlantic ocean. Canary Islands.

Our three Climate Giant research projects will strengthen our arguments for protection of these remarkable species.

I feel a real sense of achievement, not only because I pushed myself physically, but because I can say that I have brought us closer to filling the knowledge gaps with the evidence that we so desperately need to make our case for these sentient beings. I want to say a massive thank you for all your support (even my aching feet are very grateful). Although there’s still a way to go, I have hope that we will get there. The ocean’s well-being depends on whales, and so does ours. Together, we can help whales restore the ocean and heal our planet.

Please help us today with a donation

If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help restore the ocean and heal our planet.