Cooperation between programmes within the International Polar Year (IPY) provides MEOP with comprehensive, synoptic oceanographic coverage that will allow us, for the first time ever at this level, to quantify factors determining habitat selection by key polar marine mammal species. The oceanographic data collected in MEOP also provides otherwise unobtainable oceanographic data sets collected at natural hot-spots of productivity, as input data to physically-oriented modelling projects (e.g. Mercator, Southern Ocean State Estimate, and the Bipolar Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation Programme).
The cross-disciplinary merging of classical oceanography and marine mammal ecology in this programme will significantly advance our understanding of the world’s oceans and top predators that live in them. MEOP has strong potential to be an ‘IPY favourite’ with the public; marine mammals can serve as polar ambassadors that highlight – the need for good ecosystems management, wise fisheries practices, good toxicology legislation, the risk of climate change impacts, and the need for a broad understanding of whole ocean systems. The programme is timely given the predictions for ecosystem changes in both Arctic and Antarctic systems within the coming decades due to climate change, in addition to increasing fisheries and tourism activities in both the Arctic and Antarctic.