In the wake of the latest IPCC report, Whale Seeker, the first Canadian AI company focused on wildlife to be B Corp-certified in the world, reminds us of the profound threat climate change poses to global biodiversity and the potential of our ecosystems to help combat it
The ocean and its ecosystems represent a hugely under-tapped source of carbon sequestration, collectively known as blue carbon. Biological sequestration is happening all around us in the form of photosynthesizing organisms; best known among them are trees, which are super sequesterers. Their marine cousins, phytoplankton, capture as much carbon as all land plants combined! Oceanic, or "blue" carbon, is involved in circulating 83 percent of the global carbon cycle.
Whales play a critical role: scientists have discovered that the marine mammals have the multiplier effect of increasing phytoplankton production wherever they go. Whales' waste products contain precisely the substances—notably iron and nitrogen—phytoplankton need to grow. Whales bring minerals up to the ocean surface through their vertical movement, called the "whale pump," and through their migration across oceans. Preliminary modelling and estimates indicate that this fertilizing activity significantly adds to phytoplankton growth in the areas where whales frequent.
Understanding the value of whale ecosystem services is vital to incentivizing global whale monitoring and conservation. However, estimating biodiversity value and developing a market-ready solution requires whale and ocean data, scientific research, monitoring technology, and collaboration across ocean stakeholders.
Whale Seeker decided to take matters into its own hands and launched The Whale Carbon Plus Project™. This first-of-a-kind project across Canada unites governmental organizations, environmental organizations, and the private sector to develop an innovative carbon credit system centred around the protection of whales. A big first step in recognizing the ocean's work in reducing the global carbon footprint!
Why is this project so significant?
- The status of the world's whale populations is a clear indicator of ocean health and a powerful pathway to mitigate climate change. The Whale Carbon Plus Project™ will create replicable and scalable methodologies and global market solutions for ocean conservation and marine mammal health.
- Linking environment and finance, The Whale Carbon Plus Project™ aims to translate the value of whales into financial incentives for organizations to protect them as a way to reach their net-zero and environmental goals.
Whale Seeker's unique contribution is advancing visual remote sensing technology, combined with ethical AI, to monitor whale presence and prevent harm from industries sharing the whales' ocean habitat. This technology brings accountability and verifiability to industry operating practices and standards.
Whale Seeker is leading the project in the Canadian Arctic, collaborating with stakeholders, such as Blue Green World, Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Whale & Dolphin Conservation, to develop and test a scalable whale carbon and biodiversity detection methodology and credit system. The project incentivizes all marine activists to monitor maritime mammal presence and take meaningful action to avoid conflict with them.
"Our current economic paradigm values dead whales that are sold for their meat," says Ralph Chami, assistant director at the IMF International Monetary Fund and advisor at Blue Green World. "In contrast, living whales are valued at zero dollars, although their ecological services, including carbon sequestration, are incredibly valuable to our survival and well-being and the health of our ocean. We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes and values the services of a living and thriving nature, both flora and fauna. This new nature-positive economy will lead to sustainable and shared prosperity for all."
By basing their methodology on images, they provide an auditable quantitative measure of marine mammals and firm metrics to aid ESG reporting and biodiversity risk assessments. The pilot project will focus on narwhals (Monodon monoceros), using existing scientific data collected over 10 years to model and verify whale ecosystem services, while also bringing in new and existing aerial imagery and satellite technology to measure whale-related ocean productivity and health.
"Increasing the world's whale populations is a win-win strategy to capture more carbon from the atmosphere and improve ocean health," says Emily Charry Tissier, CEO and co-founder of Whale Seeker. "However, for whale protection measures to be adopted on a global scale, we need to incentivize businesses and other stakeholders by proving the benefits of protecting whales far exceed the cost. By using ethical AI, we aim to set not only a high technical standard for whale detection but also an ethical one."
With these advances in science and technology and other test cases around the globe to address other whale threats such as entanglements, the project aims to deliver verified carbon/biodiversity credits to marine industries within the next two years.