In a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, experts warn that whales are facing a growing number of dangers along their migration routes. Based on satellite tracking data from 845 animals over the past 30 years, a team of marine scientists has created the first map of ocean “superhighways” used by whales.
The researchers investigated the conditions along the migration routes of humpbacks, fin whales, and blue whales from their breeding grounds to their feeding grounds. The study revealed that these critical habitats, along with the routes used to reach them, are increasingly threatened by human activity.
According to the report, the most significant threat to whale and dolphin populations is entanglement in fishing gear and ghost nets (which are discarded or abandoned by fishermen). These dangers are linked to the deaths of an estimated 300,000 whales a year.
The experts also outlined additional threats to whales along their migration routes, including ship traffic, noise and chemical pollution, overfishing, and offshore drilling.
Chris Johnson, who leads the WWF protecting whales and dolphins initiative, said the cumulative impacts from these types of human activities are creating a “hazardous and sometimes fatal obstacle course.”
WWF is calling for the international community to work together to deliver comprehensive marine protected areas (MPAs) that overlap national and international whale migration routes, also referred to as “blue corridors.”
World Wildlife Fund says delivering protected blue corridors will benefit more than just the whales, who store significant amounts of carbon over their lifetime and whose waste fertilizes the ocean, helping maintain populations of other species including commercial fish.
“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,” said Dr. Simon Walmsley, chief marine adviser at WWF UK.
“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.”
The WWF says the international community can help protect the world’s blue corridors by supporting the UN’s High Seas Treaty, which is set for final negotiations in March.