Sea Shepherd to Investigate the Effects of Global Warming on the Southern Oceans

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will have two ships in the Southern Oceans for three months on a mission to intercept and obstruct illegal Japanese whaling activities. Our ships will off the coast of Antarctica in December 2006 and January and February of 2007.

The Society will also take advantage of the opportunity of being in the Southern Oceans to conduct investigations on the impact of global warming on marine wildlife.

"We will be taking sea and air temperature readings on a daily basis for the areas we will be in and this data will be made available to researchers," said Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of Sea Shepherd. "We will also be looking at the distribution of phylo and zooplankton and the drift of icebergs."

Global warming is rapidly becoming a major threat to the survival of numerous oceanic species including penguins in the Antarctic regions.  

University of Texas biologist Camille Parmesan has just published her review of 866 scientific studies on the impact of global warming and climate change on plants and animals worldwide. Her study was published in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics Journal.

Her conclusion is that animal and plant species have begun dying off or changing sooner than predicted because of global warming. She has written that these fast-moving adaptations come as a surprise even to biologists and ecologists because they are occurring so rapidly.

At least 70 species of frogs, mostly mountain-dwellers that had nowhere to go to escape the creeping heat, have gone extinct because of climate change, the analysis says. It also reports that between 100 and 200 other cold-dependent animal species, such as penguins and polar bears are in deep trouble.

"We are finally seeing species going extinct,"  she said. "Now we've got the evidence. It's here. It's real. This is not just biologists' intuition. It's what's happening."

Parmesan reports seeing trends of animal populations moving northward if they can, of species adapting slightly because of climate change, of plants blooming earlier, and of an increase in pests and parasites.

Five years ago, biologists believed that the negative biological consequences of  global warming were decades into the future according Douglas Futuyma, professor of ecology and evolution at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. "I feel as though we are staring crisis in the face," Futuyma said. "It's not just down the road somewhere. It is just hurtling toward us. Anyone who is 10-years old right now is going to be facing a very different and frightening world by the time that they are 50 or 60."

While over the past several years studies have shown problems with certain species, animal populations or geographic areas, Parmesan's is the first comprehensive analysis showing the big picture of global-warming induced changes, said Chris Thomas, a professor of conservation biology at the University of York in England.

While it's impossible to prove conclusively that the changes are the result of global warming, the evidence is so strong and other supportable explanations are lacking, Thomas said, so it is "statistically virtually impossible that these are just chance observations."

The most noticeable changes in plants and animals have to do with earlier springs, Parmesan said. The best example can be seen in earlier cherry blossoms and grape harvests and in sixty-five British bird species that in general are laying their first eggs nearly nine days earlier than thirty-five years ago. Parmesan said she worries most about the cold-adapted species, such as emperor penguins that have dropped from three hundred breeding pairs to just 9 in the western Antarctic Peninsula, or polar bears, which are dropping in numbers and weight in the Arctic.

The cold-dependent species on mountaintops have nowhere to go, which is why two-thirds of a certain grouping of frog species has already gone extinct, Parmesan said. Populations of animals that adapt better to warmth or can move and live farther north are adapting better than other populations in the same species, Parmesan said.

"We are seeing a lot of evolution now," Parmesan said. "However, no new gene mutations have shown themselves, not surprising because that could take millions of years," she said.

"We are very concerned," said Captain Paul Watson. "We have been working to protect marine species from illegal exploitation for three decades and we have been concerned about the chances for survival of these species because of overfishing, pollution, ozone depletion, global warming, and climate change. We need to address these threats where and when we can with the resources available to us. Sea Shepherd ships voyage to areas of the world where few vessels go and this places us in geographic locations where we can observe and record data that can contribute to a clearer global picture of the effects of global warming and climate change." 

The Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat is scheduled to depart from Melbourne in Australia the first week of December.

(Quotes taken from the Associated Press.)