Stomachs and hearts at WDCS are usually churning away at this time of year, as we await news that the Japanese fleet has left for yet another year of whaling in Antarctic waters. This year, the acid levels are at an all time high – literally.
A new study by researchers from Australia’s University of New South Wales and CSIRO has shown that acid levels in the southern ocean are rising much faster than previously predicted; the so-called “tipping point” – the point at which certain species of marine plankton would actually dissolve away due to a low pH factor – has apparently been accelerated by 30 years.
Previous estimates had the melt-down occuring in 2060; this new study, however, indicates that acidification could happen as early as 2030. This would be in roughly one human generation from now. For minke whales, the main target of Japan’s southern ocean hunt, this would be between two and three generations based on an estimated age of sexual maturity for female minkes of 6 to 8 years. For humpbacks, also potentially threatened by Japan’s harpoons, this would mean about four generations.
Such a dramatic change in ocean acidity could well cause large scale ecosystem shifts that would affect the entire Antarctic food chain, from tiny plankton up to the great whales. It is hard to understand just why Japan, who had been a key promoter of global efforts to limit the impacts of climate change, is still willing to train its harpoons on the very whales that it knows are threatened by rapid changes in habitat.