Increasing evidence suggests that climate change is negatively affecting marine ecosystems and biota. However, little is known of how climate change will impact marine mammals. This review aims to identify the effects of climatic variations on Australian marine mammals and determine their potential responses to climate change. Shifts in distributions and reproductive success have been associated with climatic factors, while stranding events, drowning of seal pups, exposure to altered water conditions and disease in several marine mammal species have followed extreme weather events. Climate change may produce distributional shifts as the ranges of warm-water species expand or shift southwards, and those of cold-water species contract. Reductions in the extent of key habitats, changes in breeding success, a greater incidence of strandings in dugongs and cetaceans, and increased exposure of coastal species to pollutants and pathogens are likely. The capacity of Australian marine mammals to adapt to climate change is poorly understood, though there is evidence that several species may be able to modify their physiology or behaviour in response to warming temperatures. To increase the resilience of marine mammals, it is necessary to address non-climatic threats, such as ensuring that key habitats are protected in Australia.
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Vol. 61 • No. 2