Why Humpback whales may steer clear of Hawaii waters

HONOLULU (KHON2) — According to research, the impact of climate change and rising greenhouse gasses may one day steer Humpback whales away from Hawaii waters, said the University of Hawaii.

UH said findings for the research was published in a paper in Frontiers in Marine Science by a team of researchers including three UH graduate students — Hannah von Hammerstein, Renee Setter and Martin van Aswegen.

Humpback whales are known to migrate toward tropical coastal waters, such as Hawaii’s, where sea surface temperatures range from around 70 F to 82 F. In these areas, the whales give birth to their calves.

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According to the research team, human activities that affect climate change are warming the oceans at rates.

At the current pace, some of the breeding grounds for the Humpback whales will heat up past their average temperature range over the next century.

It’s really crucial that we try to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and really try to stay on that ‘middle-of-the-road’ greenhouse gas emissions scenario at the very least, just so that we can save as many of those breeding grounds as possible from surpassing that critical temperature threshold.”

Renee Setter, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa graduate student

The researchers note that, it currently remains unknown if Humpback whales will continue to migrate to breeding grounds above 82.4 F. However, they hope their findings may alert policymakers to work toward reducing emissions.

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“Our findings provide yet another example of what is to come with anthropogenic climate change, with Humpback whales representing merely one impacted species,” van Aswegen said. “Improving our understanding of how ecosystems are going to change is critical for the effective and timely implementation of mitigative measures.”

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