As whales go about the business of being whales—feeding, defecating, migrating, and breeding—they provide vital ecological services to the planet. This includes fertilizing the plankton that provide half of all oxygen on Earth and sequestering millions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere in their massive bodies. The economic value of these services was the topic of a groundbreaking recent report by Dr. Ralph Chami, an International Monetary Fund economist. Estimating the worth of an individual whale (including from economic drivers such as whale watching) at more than $2 million over a lifetime, Chami concluded that, even at their current depleted levels, the world’s population of whales is worth more than $1 trillion.
Arguing that effective whale conservation could lead to a breakthrough in the fight against climate change, Chami called for coordinated global efforts to maximize whales’ ecological services. He estimated that if whale populations were restored to their pre-exploitation levels—from around 1.3 million to 4–5 million—they would remove 1.7 billion tons of CO2 each year from the atmosphere. Urging that “all we need to do is let the whales live,” he called on leaders to save whales by supporting and funding efforts to eliminate threats to their survival.