Ice in the Arctic Ocean melts allowing killer whales to move in

TORONTO – Melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has paved the way for killer whales to spend more time in these waters, but researchers fear it could threaten predators in those areas. This has the potential to unbalance the ecosystem.

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

The researchers didn’t initially intend to focus on killer whales, but were surprised when they noticed that more and more orcas were moving into these waters.

“Our work is mainly focused on examining the migration patterns of species across the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas, based on the presence or absence of sound,” said Brynn Kimber, lead author in a press release.

“But when I was looking for other species, like beluga whales, I noticed more and more killer whales in areas I didn’t expect. That motivated me to take a closer look at the orca finds. our keeper.”

Killer whales typically stay away from these waters to avoid freezing – which occurs when ice prevents whales from getting to the surface to breathe – but the effects of climate change are leaving the seas ice-free for longer. .

“It’s not that killer whales haven’t been reported in these areas before, it’s that they are likely to remain in the area for a longer period of time,” Kimber said. “This may be in response to a longer open water season.”

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

Some predators, such as the endangered bowhead whale, have taken advantage of sea ice to avoid being eaten by killer whales, but declining sea ice has provided the Orcas with a rich food source. new abundance, which could put these predators at risk.

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


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