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How will climate change affect the distribution of larger whales

How will climate change affect the distribution of larger whales? Research published in Ecological Indicators has shown that climate change will drive New Zealand’s larger whales further south.

Scientists projected the distribution of sperm whales and blue whales in New Zealand in 2100 under different climate change scenarios. Results show that ocean warming will cause a southerly shift in suitable habitat. Under the worst-case climate change scenario, there is an expected 13% and 25% loss of present habitat for sperm whales and blue whales mainly in New Zealand’s northern waters.

As these great whales are important ecosystem engineers, their southerly shift will impact northern marine ecosystems. These changes are also expected to have impact on tourism, as places like Kaikoura will have fewer and less reliable whale sightings.

Despite highlighting significant habitat loss for sperm whales and blue whales, this study also identified areas around the South Island and offshore islands that are likely to become suitable for both species in the future. By identifying these areas now, we can protect them accordingly!

Exciting inter-disciplinary research by Katharina Peters, Karen Stockin, and Frederik Saltre via Massey University, University of Zürich, University of Canterbury and Flinders University