Salmon - the Climate Change Forecasters


Wild salmon, in their migrations across the oceans, are one of the natural world’s most sensitive indicators of the biological and chemical effects of climate change, according to Dr. Ken Whelan, whose talk “Salmon – The Climate Change Forecasters” was delivered this evening to a capacity audience at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin (8th October). The talk was part of the Academy’s “Threats to the Environment” lecture series.  

According to Dr. Whelan, recent research has shown quite clearly that aquatic systems are changing and changing fast. Water is getting warmer, storms are getting stronger and the availability of food resources in and from the ocean is under threat. Oceans and atmosphere are intimately and inextricably linked. Changes in the oceans are “forcing” unprecedented shifts in climate patterns.     

“Similar patterns are apparent in freshwater,” said Dr. Whelan. “We have recently witnessed a series of unprecedented rainfall deluges which have caused massive landslides and the dislocation of tonnes of mud, silt and peat. Such climate perturbations are also causing major biological modifications including the appearance of new species off the coast and the spread of non native species around the coast and in freshwater.”   

The research carried out by Dr Whelan and his colleagues has shown that the Atlantic salmon is an ideal bio-monitor to track and trace climate change from remote mountain streams to distant zones in the Artic seas. The salmon, which is equally at home in both fresh and saltwater, traverses large areas of the planet in a relatively short space of time but is endowed with an uncanny ability to find its way home. Throughout its odyssey the salmon collects and stores a wide range of physical, chemical and biological information (  

“Although the science is complex the take home message is clear,” said Dr. Whelan. “Adaptation to climate change is in our hands. Combating climate change requires a clear and unambiguous focus on: monitoring change, responding to change, conserving populations of animals and plants and relieving man made stresses on the environment.”  

Dr Ken Whelan is Director of the Marine Institute’s Aquaculture and Catchment Management Services Team, based at Newport, Co. Mayo (