Save the Whale, Save the World. World Ocean Day 2022.
By Ed Goodall, Green Whale Manager, Whale and Dolphin Conservation
Earth. Our home planet. Did we get the name wrong though?! The legendary science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke, once observed “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean”. He had a point too, given that Earth is covered 70% by water. We sometimes forget to consider the ocean as we get wrapped up in our land-based lives so World Ocean Day is great time to remind ourselves of the huge role it plays in the health of our planet – and the huge role it’s biggest inhabitants play too!
The ocean is our greatest natural asset and our biggest carbon sink. It contains as much as 80% of all life on Earth and is the planet’s life support system. The need to protect it has never been greater, especially as we continue to miss land based targets for protecting wild places, planting trees and restoring biodiversity. So why is the ocean so overlooked by governments, legislators and decision makers? What can be done to make sure it is given more visibility, recognition and protection?
For over 30 years, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has been dedicated to the protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises. We know they face an existential threat from climate breakdown, which is changing the very chemistry of the sea, and forcing whales and dolphins to migrate further to find new places to feed, breed and raise their young. But while this is yet another, dreadful chapter in humanity’s three centuries long war on whales, this time something is different, because it turns out they are our mightiest allies in the battle against the climate crisis.
Whales are massive, we share our home with the most massive creature that has ever existed – and the role they play is outsized in the oceanic system. Through the way they migrate across ocean basins and dive to unlit depths, they circulate vital nutrients such as iron, phosphorous and nitrogen that boost phytoplankton productivity. Phytoplankton are tiny plants that give the sea it’s greenish-blue tinge and they do the same thing that trees do on land – drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. They are the base of the whole oceanic food chain, and whales help them grow faster – a bit like putting compost on your tomato plants!
Whales also help us after they die. Their huge bodies store carbon in them over their long lifetimes and when they die they sink to the deep sea. Their carbon contained within these carcasses can be considered sequestered for up to hundreds of thousands of years when this happens. It’s not just carbon though, their bodies provide a huge pulse of food to nutrient poor deep seas and a single carcass can support over 200 specialist species.
Helping populations recover is possible. The moratorium on whaling – perhaps the most successful international conservation agreement ever – pulled species such as the blue whale and humpback whale back from the brink of extinction. But we must go further. An end to whaling by Norway, Japan and Iceland, together with an elimination of threats such as entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, over-exploitation of fish populations, and noise pollution would allow more species to bounce back – restoring the ocean and helping us fight the climate crisis at the same time.
WDC is part of a global initiative seeking to transform our view of the ocean and the extraordinary life it contains – from a ‘sustainable resource’ to be managed and extracted from, to a living system: an insurance policy against our own extinction.
Through our Green Whale Programme, we are building a coalition of partners among academia, NGOs, governments and business to unlock new support for whale and ocean-based climate solutions: supporting new research that strengthens the evidence-base on whales’ ‘ecosystem services;’ developing new ‘blue finance’ models that support whale and ocean conservation; and growing support for urgent action among international policy-makers.
Whales are not, on their own, a silver bullet – but they are the biggest and most visible part of a complex ecosystem that underpins all life on Earth. So, on World Ocean Day this year, it’s good to remember that we cannot solve the climate crisis without protecting the ocean and we cannot protect the ocean without also saving the whale.
You can support our efforts today by purchasing your goods from Ethical Superstore. Between Wednesday 8th June and Tuesday 14th June, when you spend £50 at Ethical Superstore you can choose between either £4 off your order or a £5 donation made from Ethical Superstore to WDC.
Find our more about World Ocean Day and how to get your donation!