Protecting Blue Corridors

Challenges and solutions for migratory whales navigating national and international seas


Lead: World Wildlife Fund, Co-Leads: UC Santa Cruz, Oregon State University, University of Southampton


A new collaborative report from WWF (found here) and science partners provides the first comprehensive look at whale migrations and the threats they face across all oceans, highlighting how the cumulative impacts from industrial fishing, ship strikes, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change are creating a hazardous journey.

Protecting Blue Corridors report visualises the satellite tracks of over 1000 migratory whales worldwide. The report outlines how whales are encountering multiple and growing threats in their critical ocean habitats – areas where they feed, mate, give birth, and nurse their young – and along their migration superhighways, or ‘blue corridors’.

The report is a collaborative analysis of 30 years of scientific data contributed by more than 50 research groups, with leading marine scientists from Oregon State University, the University of California Santa Cruz, the University of Southampton and others.

Case studies highlight hotspots and risks that whales navigate on their migrations, some of which can be thousands of kilometers each year. As a result of these hazards, six out of the 13 great whale species are now classified as endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, even after decades of protection after commercial whaling. Among those populations most at risk is the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a species that migrates between Canada and the United States. It is at its lowest point in 20 years – numbering only 336 individuals.

Protecting Blue Corridors calls for a new conservation approach to address these mounting threats and safeguard whales, through enhanced cooperation from local to regional to international levels. Of particular urgency is engagement with the United Nations, which is set to finalise negotiations on a new treaty for the high seas (Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction) in March 2022.

The benefits from protected blue corridors extend far beyond whales. Growing evidence shows the critical role whales play maintaining ocean health and our global climate – with one whale capturing the same amount of carbon as thousands of trees. The International Monetary Fund estimates the value of a single great whale at more than US$2 million, which totals more than US$1 trillion for the current global population of great whales.

Figure 1: An illustration of the “whale pump”, where whales release nutrients such as iron, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur from deep, nutrient-rich waters in shallower waters via feeding and excretion.

Key Messages

Protecting whales has benefits for nature and people
Growing evidence shows whales play a critical role in maintaining ocean health and our global climate, all while contributing to a global economy.

Blue corridors are critical ocean habitats for migratory marine species
Whales rely on critical ocean habitats – areas where they feed, mate, give birth, nurse young, socialise or migrate. “Blue corridors” are migration superhighways that allow marine megafauna to move between these critical habitat areas, and are essential for their survival.

Whales are an indicator of ocean health, but face growing threats
Entanglement in fishing gear (bycatch), climate change, ship strikes, and pollution (chemical, plastic and underwater noise) are impacting whales, their prey and their habitats. Whales face several of these threats simultaneously across their range, which are impacting recovery of populations and contributing to the decline in others.

We highlight a new conservation approach for enhanced cooperation
Threats to whales have evolved; our conservation approach must evolve too. From local to regional to international levels, science, civil society, industry, states and intergovernmental bodies have a role in safeguarding whales and their migrations, mitigating threats and co-designing solutions.

We need to act now
Six out of the 13 great whale species are classified as Endangered or Vulnerable, even after decades of protection. Some may go extinct within our lifetimes – unless we act no

All information retrieved from:

Johnson, C. M., Reisinger, R. R., Palacios, D. M., Friedlaender, A. S., Zerbini, A. N., Willson, A., Lancaster, M., Battle, J., Graham, A., Cosandey-Godin, A., Jacob, T., Felix, F., Grilly, E., Shahid, U., Houtman, N., Alberini, A., Montecinos, Y., Najera, E., & Kelez, S. (2022). Protecting Blue Corridors - Challenges and solutions for migratory whales navigating national and international seas. Zenodo.

Ongoing Work:

October 6, 2023

As part of our continued efforts to safeguard and better understand the migratory movements of whales, members of the Bio-telemetry and Behavioral Ecology Lab deployed to the Gulf of Tribugá (Golfo de Tribugá) in collaboration with our partners at Fundación Macuáticos Colombia and Dr. Natalia Botero-Acosta, to deploy satellite-linked tags in humpback whales to track their southbound migration back to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Although the migratory connection between Colombia and Antarctica has been known for a long time, the frequency of sightings of moms with calves in the breeding grounds tends to be much higher than in Antarctica. This leads us to ask ourselves, do moms with calves go somewhere different?

To keep updated with the migration of the whales we tagged this breeding season, follow the map below!!