When a representative of the office of U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) called to invite WDC to participate in a Congressional Briefing on climate change, we were both honored and eager to attend. Living at the Extremes: Geoscience Research at the Coolest Places on Earth, was co-sponsored by Senator Reid and Senator Ed Markey’s (D-MA) offices and involved many special guests, including Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Angus King (I-ME), Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, and more.
Often times the media capitalizes on soundbites of U.S. elected officials denying climate change, but the soundbites from yesterday’s hearing included impassioned words from members of the U.S. Senate and their guests about rising sea levels, droughts and global impacts, and our collective responsibility to raise awareness about this issue. It was refreshing to hear an elected official not only acknowledge climate change, but publically acknowledge the “parallel science” (as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse referred to it) which is used to discredit the data pointing to this very real man-made threat. In fact, the Administration has created an opportunity for those that wish to call out those elected officials that deny climate change is real.
While the hearing largely focused on research from the polar-regions, it did provide WDC with an opportunity to raise the need to further consider the impacts of climate change on whales and dolphins. In fact, we were able to point to the National Marine Fisheries Service largely dismissing the impacts of climate change on northern hemisphere humpback whales in its biological review, the reference document used by the Agency to propose delisting most humpback populations from the Endangered Species Act.
The impacts of climate change on whales and dolphins are both direct (e.g. changes in prey availability and distribution) and indirect (e.g. changes in distribution can increase risks of entanglement and vessel strikes). Entanglements and vessel strikes are already taking their toll on western North Atlantic humpback whales, including Spinnaker, who sadly died last week after having been entangled in fishing gear on three different occasions over her 11 years of life. To ignore that climate change is a very real risk to western North Atlantic humpback whales is a form of “parallel science”.
Humpbacks in Greenland
Image courtesy of M. Kopp