Humpback whales make some of the longest migrations on Earth. Scientists tracked one whale that traveled 11,770 miles over 265 days from its summer foraging area near the Antarctic Peninsula up to its winter breeding area off Colombia and back again to the Antarctic Peninsula. Throughout the Southern Hemisphere, humpbacks make seasonal migrations like this between the tropics and polar waters, moving along the coasts through the waters of 28 countries and the open ocean that lies beyond the jurisdiction of any nation.
But the growing dangers whales face worldwide along these epic journeys are signs of an ocean in peril, and reveal how these waters connect us all.
Whales are essential to a healthy ocean and planet
Along their migrations, whales fertilize the marine ecosystems they move through and support the marine life inhabiting them. Their fecal plumes boost phytoplankton production, which captures about 40% of all carbon dioxide produced and generates over half of the atmosphere’s oxygen. When they die, whales sink to the seabed, taking massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. Altogether, one whale captures the same amount of carbon over its lifetime as thousands of trees.
This means that by restoring whale populations, we can help restore ocean ecosystems and mitigate and build resilience to climate change. It’s helping nature help itself, and all of us who depend on it.