Did you know that whales, especially the great whales, help support the overall health of the marine environment by capturing carbon from the atmosphere? Each great whale sequesters 33 tons of CO2 on average. When whales die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and lock that carbon away for hundreds of years – a literal carbon sink.
Unfortunately, after decades of industrialized whaling, the threat of warming waters, and the impacts of global trade, it is estimated that overall whale populations are now less than one fourth what they once were. Many of the world’s busiest shipping and ferry lanes overlap directly with areas where whales feed, give birth, nurse their young, or travel between feeding and breeding grounds. This has led to the classification of six out of 13 great whale species as either endangered or vulnerable.
Over the past 30 years, WWF’s Protecting Whales and Dolphins Initiative has collected satellite data from more than 1,000 whales tagged by 50 research groups, including Oregon State University, the University of California Santa Cruz, and the University of Southampton. WWF is using this satellite data to map the “superhighways” through which these marine mammals migrate and document the different threats that whales encounter along the way. With this research, WWF is working to galvanize both international and national action to identify and protect vulnerable habitats, regulate fishing and shipping practices, and prevent plastics and other waste from winding up in the ocean. WWF is working to not only conserve these marvelous creatures, but also preserve their habitats which are shared by many other species, from the tiniest zooplankton to sea turtles and sharks.