Blog: Mumbai to Patagonia: Dead Whales

The unprecedented death of whales from the Arabian Sea to the Atlantic Ocean is a horrific omen. Let me tell you why:

The oceans have quadrupled in heat from burning fossil fuels since the late 20th century.

That fossil fuel heat, the equivalent of detonating one Hiroshima-size atomic bomb every second for 75 straight years, has driven oceanic oxygen down. The oxygen-starved oceans are beginning to suffocate en route to a heart attack.

Along the west coast of India there has been a six-fold increase in the death of large baleen or filter feeding whales, including the iconic pink-chinned subtropical Bryde’s. Thirty-seven whales perished in a period of 25 months between 2015 and 2016.

The Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea are missing oxygen. That means sardines, an important food source for Bryde’s, are at a record low. Each Bryde’s whale consumes about 1,400 pounds of sardines daily. No fish, no whale food.

Whales perform a crucial ecological role. They are farmers of the sea. Their flocculent fecal plumes, or, defecant, are rich with iron and nitrogen, which fertilizes phytoplankton, the basis of the entire marine food web. Phytoplankton, along with blue green bacteria, prochlorococcus, provides 7.5 billion procreating humans with almost two out of every three breathes of oxygen. The overheated oceans are missing 40 percent of their phytoplankton. Whales are helping to re-grow the lost phytoplankton.

Since January 1, 2016, on the other side of the world, 41 humpback whales washed ashore along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Agency has declared it an “unusual mortality event.”

Ships carelessly struck 10 whales — a painful, slow but steady death from internal hemorrhaging. Necropsies on the other 31 humpbacks are underway. The fact that these masterpiece whales are no longer farming the sea, helping us breathe, is very concerning because atmospheric oxygen levels are steadily declining due to burning fossil fuels.

In 2015, I reported on 337 Sei whales stranded along a remote stretch of Chilean Patagonia. It was the largest baleen mass whale death ever recorded. The oceans have warmed so much that the algal blooms contain off-the-chart levels of domoic acid or nerve poison. The Sei whales consumed vast amounts of squat lobsters, loaded with domoic acid-laced plankton. That nerve poison biomagnified and killed the Seis. Those colossal whales were victims of man-made global warming.

The Trump administration is seeking permits for seismic airgun surveys (oil and gas exploration) along the Eastern Seaboard. It’s a vast area extending from the Delaware Bay south to Cape Canaveral in Florida. In addition to humpbacks, endangered Eastern Atlantic bluefin tunas, great white sharks and leatherback sea turtles, that area is crucial habitat for the critically endangered North Atlantic Right whales. There are fewer than 500 of these glorious creatures remaining on the globe.

Seismic airguns blast 242 decibels every 10 seconds, non-stop for weeks on end. Seismic airguns deafen whales. A deaf whale is a dead whale.

We need all whales alive, farming the sea and helping us breathe!

Subsidizing fossil fuels by as much as $5.6 trillion annually is killing our planet at an unprecedented rate.

Reduce emissions now with 80 percent renewable energies by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.


Earth Doctor Reese Halter’s upcoming book is “Save Nature Now.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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