Clear the paths for whales

February 19, 2022

“We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water, we all walk on the same planet.”

TK Rinpoche

When the Akasha Research Network became aware of the vital role of whales for the whole system of Earth, we immediately engaged in this topic researching the interdependencies between everything connected with them.  

On World Whale Day 2022, we finally start to reach out and support those who are already active in protecting whales and the oceans – and by this our planet.

Whales – an essential part of the ecosystem and the planetary system as a whole

Oceans are the source of life on Earth. They produce more than half of the world’s oxygen while at the same time taking up vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, every other breath we take comes from the oceans. In addition, because they absorb most of the heat on the planet, oceans are essential for climate regulation. In fact, without this oceanic buffering system the effects of climate change would be even more severe than they are now (NASA Science, 2022; Schmitt, 2018). 

In recent years it has become clear that whales play a key role in this oceanic life-supporting system. Researchers have found that with their poop whales enrich the water with essential nutrients for phytoplankton, plant-like microorganisms that transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen via photosynthesis. In addition, their bodies store substantial amounts of carbon over their lifespans. In case of a natural death, this carbon is taken to the bottom of the sea, where it is safely locked away in sediments providing deep sea organisms with habitats and essential nutrients (Lutz and Martin, 2014). 

Whales are also important for the integrity of the marine ecosystem and its biodiversity. By fertilizing phytoplankton, they lay the foundation for the marine food chain: Phytoplankton is the main food source for myriad marine creatures such as crustaceans and fish, which are in turn prey animals for larger species including whales themselves (NOAA, 2019). 

Considering these mechanisms alone, it becomes clear that whales have vital implications for the entire planetary system, on whose stability all living beings on this planet critically depend. 

Source: Grid-Arendal, 2021: The role of whales in the oceanic carbon cycle

The situation of whales and what’s threatening them

Given their importance for life on Earth, it is all the more worrying that due to commercial whaling in the 20th century, whale populations around the globe have dwindled dramatically. Although it is banned in most countries today, a few states are still actively engaged in killing whales, mostly for the purpose of selling their meat and other body parts. Nowadays, climate change, pollution, ship strikes, entanglement in abandoned fishing gear as well as overexploitation of fishing grounds pose increasing dangers making it difficult for whale populations to recover. Some species even stand at the verge of extinction (Safe the Whales, 2022; IUCN, 2019). 

One of the endangered whale species is the Southern Right Whale that lives in the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere, migrating between feeding areas in higher latitudes and breeding grounds in regions closer to the equator (NOAA, 2022).  

“During August and September, it is very common to see whales swimming in pods towards the south. Living close to the shore, it was always a beautiful experience to watch these animals gently swim by.”, says Juan Pablo Rebuffone, an Argentinean environmentalist who grew up close to the sea and as a surfer developed a deep connection to the ocean. 

Underwater noise – a growing concern

Although it is reported that the Southern Right Whale population in Argentinean and Brazilian waters is slowly recovering (IWC, 2022), Juan is concerned about the fact that whales and other species are increasingly exposed to loud underwater noise from seismic surveys executed by oil companies to locate oil and gas resources offshore: “The dangers posed by seismic surveys are very hard to calculate, but we know that the sound of these blasts can travel up to 4,000 km and cause behavioral changes, disorientation and in many cases death. It disrupts normal biological functions of several different species, from whales and dolphins to sea lions and birds.”

Fortunately, these undertakings do not remain unseen. 

More recently, the plans to start seismic surveys in Argentinean waters by several companies have found great resistance from local people. The protests have gathered thousands on the streets. In the public hearing around this issue over 90% of the 500 orators showed a great amount of concern”, Juan reports.  

Source: Hannes Grobe (Alfred-Wegener-Institute): Equipment used for seismic surveying: An array of air guns produce sound waves, which are reflected by different sediment layers on the ocean floor and recorded by hydrophones integrated in the streamer

What needs to be done to bring about positive change

To give marine ecosystems the chance to recover and whales to safely breed and migrate, at least 30% of the world’s oceans must be transformed into marine protected areas (IUCN, 2017). Currently, less than 7% of the world’s oceans are under official protection and only around 2% are declared as no-take areas where no human interventions are allowed (IUCN, 2017). 

The fact that more and more people realize the need to act and raise their voices against harmful actions as described, however, gives reason for hope. Today, numerous conservationist groups and organizations around the globe are pushing their governments to take bolder action for the protection of marine ecosystems – measures against maritime pollution being just one part of it. 

The Akasha Research Network is determined to support individuals and organizations from around the world in their aspiration to achieve stricter regulations to protect whales and their habitats. Given the critical state of the planet’s ecosystems and the little time we have left for their protection, the goal is to strengthen the common ground between all actors and to make the global network of supporters as strong as possible to have greater impact.  

By regularly sharing insights from ocean experts and conservationists with the wider public in the future, we wish to contribute to a holistic view on the life below water and show why saving whales and the oceans is key to safeguarding planetary health. 

With his words, Juan reminds us of the most important fact: “We are all part of nature and not separate from it. Therefore, protecting the oceans should be in everyone’s best interest. Nature has a great ability to return to its lost balance, if we just learn to love it and leave it alone.” 

Everything is interconnected and each of our actions has an effect on our surrounding. So, let’s make it a positive one and clear the path for whales! 


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