Skip to content

Climate Change

Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing whales and dolphins today.

The climate is changing fast: so fast that some whale and dolphin populations may not have time to adapt. Changes in sea temperature, freshening of seawater, acidification, rises in sea levels, the loss of icy polar habitats and the decline of food sources are just some of the many dangers which climate change poses for whales and dolphins.

How are whales, dolphins and porpoises affected by climate change?

Climate change is expected to be the main cause of mass extinctions in the 21st century and whales and dolphins are not immune. The rapid warming of the planet is leading to a loss of habitat for whales and dolphins and greater competition for a diminishing amount of prey species. It is affecting the timing and ranges of their migration, their distribution and even their ability to reproduce.

Climate change is a fundamental threat to whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Unless radical actions are taken, some whale and dolphin populations may not be able to adapt quickly enough to survive. For example, the northern Indian Ocean is fringed by land, limiting the ability of species to move northwards into cooler habitat as waters become warmer.

Humpback whale group swimming underwater

How do whales help combat climate change?

Whales play a key part in helping to combat climate change through their role in the marine ecosystem. They play a vital role in the health of the oceans where they help provide up to 50% of our oxygen, combat climate change and sustain fish stocks.

The way that whales feed, poo, migrate, and dive between the surface and the ocean depths (known as the ‘whale pump’), circulates essential nutrients throughout the ocean.  This in turn supports healthy marine ecosystems and the growth of phytoplankton, which locks in a massive amount of carbon from the atmosphere.

By their sheer scale, large whales lock in huge amounts of carbon, however researchers estimate that this has been reduced by approximately nine million tonnes by commercial whaling.  Indeed, the mass slaughter of whales in the 19th and 20th centuries may well have accelerated the effects of climate change, by both increasing the release of carbon into the atmosphere and diminishing the role whales play in locking it back in the oceans.

Put simply, we need more whales in the ocean to help combat the impact of climate change.  The more whales there are, the healthier the oceans will be and the less carbon dioxide there will be in the atmosphere.


If you’d like to know more about how whales help fight climate change, please read our free report, which includes full references to scientific papers.

Download the PDF.

How can you help?

Programmes like BBC’s Blue Planet played a huge role in raising public awareness of the damage being done to the oceans through climate change and pollution.

For many people however it is easy to forget or ignore what is happening out of sight, beneath the waves.  By supporting WDC you will be helping to keep the plight of whales and dolphins in the public mind, put pressure on governments and policy makers to take action and increase understanding of the role whales can play in restoring the oceans to health.

We can also all make small changes in our own lives which will make an important impact, from reducing the amount of single-use plastic we use, using the car less often, or switching to low energy lightbulbs. If everyone makes small, everyday changes, the benefit to the environment will be huge.

Ours may be the last generations able to halt the runaway impacts of climate change on the planet and on wildlife and we must all do our part.


Make a difference

Join our team  - no matter which way you choose, your commitment helps whales, dolphins, and our shared planet.

Save the whales, save the world.

Humpback whale spyhop


Adopt a whale and help us protect these amazing creatures.

Bottlenose dolphin calf breaching with its whole body out of the water


You can join our team and help us save whales and dolphins

Breaching North Atlantic right whale


Your gifts help us take action for whales and dolphins.

Orca spyhop


Support WDC by shopping for yourself or a friend.