Whales in a changing climate and whales as climate & ecosystem engineers

Many whale populations are now in the process of recovering following over-exploitation by the whaling industry. Climate change has been identified as one of the next big challenges facing whales. This research project will establish a fundamental understanding of how changing ocean conditions are influencing the recovery of whale populations and develop adaptation scenarios for advancing whale conservation policies and programs. The project will also lead to improved understanding of the role whales might play as carbon sinks and thus climate engineers, and their role as ecosystem engineers contributing to ocean productivity.

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Research dives deep to understand climate impacts

A world-first research project aims to understand how ocean changes influence the recovery of whale populations in the southern hemisphere.


On 23 September 2020 a new project paper was published in the journal Marine Ecology - Responses of humpback whales to a changing climate in the Southern Hemisphere: Priorities for research efforts. This paper presents a new perspective on understanding the impacts of climate change on humpback whales, arguing the need for a system‐based multidisciplinary research approach. Our approach includes coupled, mechanistic models based upon robust ecological principles, and integrates key physical, biogeochemical, biological and ecological modules to address long‐term changes associated with climate change. To illustrate the need for this system‐based multidisciplinary approach, we focus on Southern Hemisphere humpback whales, the recovery of which may be impacted by rapid changes in habitat conditions brought about by anthropogenic climate change.

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South Africa and Australia partnership

The research will focus on whale breeding, feeding and migratory waters in the Southern Hemisphere.

Griffith University in Australia will work with its project partners and researchers in South Africa - Stellenbosch University, University of Cape Town, and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

A multidisciplinary team

A multidisciplinary research team with expertise in the following areas are working on this research project:

  • coupled ocean-biogeochemical modelling
  • whale migrations and biology
  • ocean primary productivity and chemistry
  • numerical modelling
  • natural resource management and conservation policy
  • climate change impacts

Listen to the whales ...

Griffith Climate Change Response Program