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Protecting blue corridors

Growing dangers along whale superhighways revealed in a migration map first
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A humpback whale eyeing camera while swimming through clear blue ocean waters

A report published today (17 Feb) provides the first truly global, comprehensive look at whale migrations and the threats they face across the world’s oceans, and calls for urgent action to safeguard whales along their migratory routes or ‘blue corridors’.

‘Protecting Blue Corridors’ from WWF and partners is a collaborative analysis, with inputs from leading marine scientists at Oregon State University, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Southampton and others.

It combines satellite tracking data from 845 whales, collected over the past 30 years from 50 different researchers, to create a world-first map visualising tracked migrations all over the world, including fin and humpback whales that visit UK waters.

Endangered whales

Six out of the 13 great whale species are now classified as endangered or vulnerable by the IUCN, even after decades of protection after commercial whaling.

The report highlights the multiple and growing threats that whales are encountering within their critical ocean habitats – areas where they feed, mate, give birth and nurse their young – and along the ‘blue corridors’ that connect these habitats, many of which span thousands of kilometres and cross the high seas.

‘Cumulative impacts from human activities – including industrial fishing, ship strikes, chemical, plastic and noise pollution, habitat loss, and climate change – are creating a hazardous and sometimes fatal obstacle course.

‘The deadliest by far is entanglement in fishing gear – killing an estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises each year. What’s worse, this is happening from the Arctic to the Antarctic.’

Global lead, WWF Protecting Whales and Dolphins Initiative

A treaty for the high seas

The high seas make up two-thirds of the Earth’s oceans, but there is currently no overarching treaty that exists to conserve vulnerable species and ecosystems in these waters.

Ahead of World Whale Day (20 February) ‘Protecting Blue Corridors’ calls for a new conservation approach to address these mounting threats, through enhanced cooperation from local to regional to international levels.

‘Gentle giants like fin and humpback whales can be frequent visitors to UK seas, but – as is the case right around the world – our waters are fraught with risk, from fishing gear entanglement to ship strikes to impacts from noise pollution.

‘As a newly independent coastal state and a shipping superpower, the UK can show international leadership and support ocean recovery by expanding and strengthening marine protected areas in UK seas.

‘We also urge the international community to come together to protect the world’s blue corridors, and the wildlife that relies on them, including in the high seas, by getting behind the UN High Seas Treaty to deliver a robust mechanism for establishing networks of high seas marine protected areas.’

Chief marine adviser at WWF UK

Whales capture carbon

The United Nations is set to finalise negotiations on a new treaty for the high seas (Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, or BBNJ) in March 2022.

The benefits from protected ‘blue corridors’ extend far beyond whales. Growing evidence shows the critical role whales play maintaining ocean health and our global climate, with one whale capturing the same amount of carbon over its lifetime as thousands of trees.

Their excrement also fertilises our oceans which in turn fuels phytoplankton, microscopic plants that produce more than half of the world’s oxygen.

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