Ocean warming threatens southern right whale population recovery

Macarena Agrelo*, Fábio G Daura-Jorge, Victoria J Rowntree, Mariano Sironi, Philip S Hammond, Simon N Ingram, Carina F Marón, Florencia O Vilches, Jon Seger, Roger Payne, Paulo C Simões-Lopes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Whales contribute to marine ecosystem functioning, and they may play a role in mitigating climate change and supporting the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) population, a keystone prey species that sustains the entire Southern Ocean (SO) ecosystem. By analyzing a five-decade (1971–2017) data series of individual southern right whales (SRWs; Eubalaena australis) photo-identified at Península Valdés, Argentina, we found a marked increase in whale mortality rates following El Niño events. By modeling how the population responds to changes in the frequency and intensity of El Niño events, we found that such events are likely to impede SRW population recovery and could even cause population decline. Such outcomes have the potential to disrupt food-web interactions in the SO, weakening that ecosystem’s contribution to the mitigation of climate change at a global scale.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabh2823
Number of pages8
JournalScience Advances
Volume7
Issue number42
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2021

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