The Weather Network – Unique New Map Reveals ‘Whale Highways’ Across Oceans

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Tuesday, March 1, 2022, 12:00 p.m. – “Together, we can protect blue corridors for whales, our ocean and ourselves.”

A new report from WWF maps the main migration routes used by whales around the world, highlighting the growing threats these important species face.

Each year, whales travel hundreds or even thousands of miles on their migration to track food sources, seek mates and raise their young. During these migrations, they face a number of threats due to human activities. Many get tangled in fishing gear. Others are struck by ships sailing in the same waters. They are also affected by pollution, shrinking habitats and the growing impacts of climate change.

According to a new report from the World Wide Fund for Nature – titled Protecting Blue Corridors: Challenges and Solutions for Migratory Whales Navigating National and International Seas — these threats “create a dangerous and sometimes fatal obstacle course for marine species”.

The report includes a new map – the first of its kind – which was compiled using satellite tracking of tagged whales. It reveals the many routes across the oceans that different species of whales regularly take. Researchers call these pathways “blue corridors” or “whale highways.

Whalesuperhighways-16x9-Infographic-WWFThis map, from the new Protecting Blue Corridors report, traces the “highways” used by eight different whale species around the world. Credit: WWF

Dr. Aurélie Cosandey-Godin, Senior Specialist in Marine Ecosystems and Sustainable Navigation at WWF-Canada, is one of the co-authors of Protect the blue corridors. In an email to MétéoMédia, she provided her thoughts on the report.

The Weather Network: What are “whale highways” and how did scientists collect the data to trace them?

Dr. Aurelie Cosandey-Godin: The ‘Whale Superhighways’ are essential migration routes for the survival of whales. These are the paths they follow as they move between critical ocean habitats – the places where they feed, mate, give birth, nurse and socialize. For the first time, Protecting Blue Corridors maps 845 satellite tracks of migrating whales around the world, highlighting 30 years of scientific data provided by more than 50 research groups.

Where do these highways cross Canadian waters and what whale species use them?

On all coasts of Canada, our waters are essential to the survival of many great whales. They can migrate thousands of kilometers every year along Canada’s coasts, in and out of international and domestic waters. Our report shows the migration corridors of blue, fin, humpback and gray whales off the west coast of North America. For the gray whale, satellite tagging has documented its annual return migration between the Arctic and Mexico along the western coasts of Canada and the United States. On the east coast of Canada, North Atlantic right whales migrate seasonally along the Canadian and American coasts. During the winter months, the species is found on its calving grounds off South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida. Then, in the spring, they slowly begin to move north to their feeding and mating grounds in the Gulf of Maine and eastern Canadian Atlantic.

What are the greatest risks to whales along these flyways? What about those routes specifically in Canadian waters?

Entanglement in fishing gear (also known as bycatch), ship strikes, chemical and noise pollution, habitat loss and climate change impact whales, their prey and their habitats around the world. world and make their migration increasingly dangerous. For example, around 300,000 cetaceans are killed each year due to fishing bycatch. Ever-expanding shipping traffic leads to more collisions between whales and ships and more than doubles underwater noise pollution every decade. Climate change is displacing their prey populations – especially in polar regions – making it harder for them to find food.

All of these risks threaten whales in Canadian waters. In recent years, warming waters have affected prey availability with direct impacts on some of the large whales migrating to Canadian waters. On the west coast of North America, from Mexico to Alaska, gray whales have washed up on beaches because severe malnutrition – linked to a lack of food caused by climate change – drove them to seek food in dangerous shallow water. On the East Coast, warming waters associated with climate change have caused North Atlantic right whales to move north into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, putting the population at increased risk of ship strikes and entanglement of fishing gear.

What can we do to reduce these risks? Now that we know where these highways are, is it as easy as avoiding them? Is it even possible to avoid them, given the location of our shipping lanes and where our industrial fishing takes place?

It is quite clear that in many cases migration corridors are perilous. We call for the protection of six global blue corridors by 2030. This is a new conservation approach to save whales, through enhanced cooperation from local, regional and international levels. This includes a range of responses, including establishing networks of marine protected areas that straddle international and national waters as well as implementing holistic management approaches. This would include achieving “zero bycatch” in fisheries, removing and cleaning up “ghost gear”, which is abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, and keeping vessels away from habitats reviews of whales where possible and to set speed limits where avoidance is not possible. possible.

What do you think is the most important thing Canadians should know about this new report?

Six of the 13 species of great whales are classified as endangered or vulnerable, even after decades of protection. Some of our great whales could disappear within our lifetime unless we act now. Together we can protect blue corridors for whales, our ocean and ourselves.

Thumbnail image courtesy of WWF

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