ourenvironment.info logo

Sponsored by the merchants of The Best Of Maui


By Jeff Stark

A conservation success story For several decades humans have been involved in saving whales from being hunted to extinction. It now appears that the whales may be returning the favor.

This is one of the conclusions of a collection of scientific papers exploring how the ecology and biology of the great whales may well represent a super sized natural ally in the fight against global warming.

Whalewatching off Maui According to a paper entitled "Protecting Whales Can Help Avert Climate Change" by the World Economic Forum's Katharine Rooney, the economic value of one great whale (humpback, gray, blue, etc.) is approximately $2 million. This figure comes from studies completed by the World Economic Fund (WEF) which projects that each whale's contribution to carbon capture, the fishing industry and the whale-watching sector, is over $2 million. When multiplied by the estimated global population of these whales the aggregate value is over $1 trillion.

However, this staggering figure is only the beginning of the good news. For dedicated environmentalists, and supporters of the "save the whales" movement, it is the impact on global warming which may be the best news. According to several scientific sources if the worldwide whale population is restored whales that have reached their normal 60 year life span will, when they die, sink to the ocean floor. Here, over a geologic time scale, an average of 33 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in each of the whale carcasses will be sequestered for hundreds of years. By comparison, a tree absorbs up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year.

But wait - there's more:

A cry for help from aboveWhales play a vital role in production of phytoplankton, the backbone of the oceanic food chain. This in turn increases photosynthesis which worldwide amounts to about 37 billion tons, 40% of all carbon dioxide produced yearly. According to the WEF this is the same as the amount of CO2 captured by 1.7 trillion trees, or four Amazon rainforests' worth. IMF also reports that "At a minimum, even a 1 percent increase in phytoplankton productivity thanks to whale activity would capture hundreds of millions of tons of additional CO2 a year, equivalent to the sudden appearance of 2 billion mature trees."

According to this, and other similar reports, there are many other benefits we derive from whales. These animals have been a vital part of our planet's ecology for millennia. They help moderate the impacts of our abuse of the oceans and marine organisms. Their presence helps regulate climate, sustains the life of fish and other species which provide us with food and other vital materials and sustain us spiritually and culturally.

Whale scientists at workHowever, the great whales and all the benefits they provide are still endangered and face many threats that are increasing. Even though commercial whaling has been internationally banned for nearly five decades the best estimates indicate that 1,000 whales are hunted and killed each year. Some are for "scientific" research but end up in and on supermarkets and dinner tables. Others are hunted by the practitioners indigenous cultures, still others fall prey to "outlaw" whalers. Whales are also struck and killed by ships, sickened by pollution and bedeviled by an increasingly noisy environment. Science is now telling us about the benefits of a healthy and numerous whale population. Our inability to deal with the threats that are still a fact of life for whales and all marine mammals may deny us the benefits they provide.


If we have learned one thing from the "whale wars" it is that an educated and motivated citizenry can have a huge impact. This is why whale watching, a $2 billion industry, has been effective. And they still are. Whale watching providers run the gamut from the "kick butt and take names" tactics of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd organizations to others like Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation which conduct scientific research and disseminate what they have learned to tens of thousands who take part in their whale watching tours every year.

This humpback is watching the whale watchersWhale watching is also a popular feature in elementary classrooms all over the world. Kids are fascinated to learn about whales, love the idea of "adopting" a whale and often, after their first up-close whale encounter, can't wait to do it again.

The good news is that for those of us that would like to get involved in protecting whales in all the earth's oceans the opportunities are virtually endless. Some are hard-core science involving field work on the ocean, others are classroom settings at all grade levels, marketing experts, and novices, are in demand as are opportunities for direct actions designed to educate via mass media. Check out the "RESOURCES" below and get ready for a life-changing experience.

RESOURCES For the full text of the WMF article cited above CLICK HERE

Maui Ocean Center is a world-class aquarium and marine science center. A "do not miss" attraction.

Check out this GOOGLE search for results on whales fight global warming

The US government and international players are represented by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

Scientific research has played a major in the successful campaign to save Hawaii's humpbackk whales. One of the major research organizations is Maui-based Pacific Whale Foundation.

Nothing teaches like video. CLICK HERE for a comprehensive library of videos on all aspects of this topic

Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are still leading the fight to save whales, and still worth a look.