Melting Arctic Ocean ice allows killer whales to settle there and threatens ecosystem


By Tom Yun, Editor,

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Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) – Melted sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has allowed killer whales to spend more time in these waters, but researchers fear this could threaten prey species in these areas, potentially upsetting the ecosystem.

Researchers at the University of Washington followed the movement of aquatic species off the western and northern coasts of Alaska using underwater microphones between 2012 and 2019. They presented their findings at a conference hosted by the Acoustical Society of America on Thursday.

The researchers did not initially intend to focus on killer whales, but were surprised when they noticed more and more killer whales were entering these waters.

“Our work is primarily focused on examining the migration patterns of species across the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas, depending on the presence or absence of acoustics,” said lead author Brynn Kimber in a press release. Release.

“But while looking for other species, like beluga whales, I noticed more and more killer whales in areas where I didn’t expect them. This is what motivated me to take a closer look at our killer whale detections.

Killer whales had normally stayed away from these waters to avoid ice entrapment – which occurs when ice prevents whales from coming to the surface to breathe – but the effects of climate change are leaving the sea free to ice for longer periods.

“It’s not necessarily that killer whales haven’t been reported in these areas before, but that they appear to stay in the area for longer periods of time,” Kimber said. “This is probably due to a longer open water season. “

Kimber added that the September pack ice in the Arctic Ocean has declined at an average rate of 13% per decade since the 1980s.

Several prey species, such as the endangered bowhead whale, have taken advantage of the pack ice to avoid predation by killer whales, but declining pack ice has provided killer whales with an abundant new source of food, potentially putting these species away. prey at risk.

“These results speak of a changing Arctic, both in terms of the presence of killer whales themselves and in terms of the impact that increased predation by killer whales could have on Arctic food webs. “, wrote the authors.

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