Our program featured Natalie Barefoot, who Zoomed in from Arizona to bid us “whalecom” and tell us about aquatic mammals known as cetaceans. There are around 89 living species, which are divided into two parvorders. The first is the Odontoceti, the toothed whales, which consist of around 70 species, including the dolphin, porpoise, beluga whale, narwhal, sperm whale, and beaked whale. The second is the Mysticeti, the baleen whales, which have a filter-feeder system, and consist of fifteen species divided into three families, and include the blue whale, right whale, bowhead whale, rorqual, and gray whale.
Natalie always had an affinity for whales and spent a number of years working with them in the field in places such as New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Her experience and her background as an attorney led her to found Cet Law which focuses specifically on furthering law and policy to protect cetaceans and their ocean and freshwater habitats. The group advocates for whale sanctuaries and responsible whale watching operations.
Climate change affects, and is affected, by whales. Rising ocean temperatures can lead to changes in migration patterns. 58% of cetaceans will see an increase in their optimal habitat. 40% will see a decrease. Those that experience a decrease may become extinct or become more rare. They also may shift their range to follow their source of food. Climate change may bring an increase in human activity. Ship strikes and line entanglements are already a problem. Pollution from chemicals and plastics can be deadly. There is even a problem with noise pollution. Cetaceans communicate, hunt, and navigate through
Natalie played a clip from Eddie (the humpback whale) Vedder who could sing for up to 20 minutes. Studies show that whales also help to mitigate climate change, playing the role of ecosystem engineers. During their lifetime, they take in more carbon than they release. Their massive tale movements help move nutrients to where photosynthesis can occur, thus providing food in nutrient-poor areas. Even whale poop releases nutrients into the water. Whales can lead long lives and, upon death, settle to the bottom of the ocean where they provide food for other creatures. A healthy, robust whale population means fun, excitement, and a healthy environment.