Research Publication

Can right whales out-swim climate change? Can we?

By Andrew J. Pershing, Daniel E. Pendleton

Originally published in Oceanography in September 2021



The article by Meyer-Gutbrod and colleagues in this issue demonstrates that the endangered North Atlantic right whale’s preferred prey has declined as the Northwest Atlantic has warmed. Right whales are now spending more time foraging in historically colder habitats, but they are producing fewer calves. The low calf production could reflect a delay between the decline in the potential productivity of their traditional habitats and its increase in their new habitats. This delay would result in a “climate deficit” in their fitness. Right whales must also learn to forage successfully in their new habitats, creating an additional loss of fitness termed an “adaptation deficit.” Humans will also face unavoidable climate deficits, but we have more options for minimizing adaptation deficits.

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Affiliated Authors
  • Dan Pendleton

    Dan Pendleton, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Spatial Ecology, Mapping, and Assessment, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, is a quantitative ecologist who is motivated by the desire conduct science that will inform resource management decisions and advance the conservation status of marine mammals.

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