Protecting Whales in an Ice-free Arctic


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Whales and seals Arctic

Published

2018-05-07

As Arctic sea ice vanishes, new measures are needed to protect marine wildlife from increased ship traffic

Canadians watched in horror last summer as one North Atlantic right whale after another was found dead around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, washed up on beaches or floating offshore, apparent victims of ship strikes or fishing gear entanglements.

Scientists think part of the problem may stem from the whales moving into new territory in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in search of food, where they instead encounter busy shipping lanes and commercial fishing zones. This set of circumstances, driven at least in part by climate change, is raising alarm bells about other whale populations living a long way from the Gulf. In Canada’s Arctic, warming waters and longer ice-free seasons driven by climate change are creating the conditions for a major increase in shipping and potentially even fishing in waters heavily used by whales and other marine mammals.

Bowhead whales, a close relative of the North Atlantic right whale, and beluga whales are the two species most likely to be affected by an increase in ship traffic through the Amundsen Gulf in the eastern Beaufort Sea, which is also the western entrance to the Northwest Passage. WCS Canada has been listening to both ships and whales in this area using underwater recorders and we are growing concerned about the potential for conflict.

Researchers participating in a MEOPAR (Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response network, a Canadian National Centre of Excellence) project, including scientists from WCS Canada, the University of Victoria, and Dalhousie University, recently published a paper looking at the common tools used for reducing the impacts of vessels on whales and how these might be applied in the eastern Beaufort.

Read the full story at Canadian Geographic

A whale of a problem developing in Canada’s Arctic

A whale of a problem developing in Canada’s Arctic

Canada actually borders three oceans and it is in that often overlooked third ocean—the Arctic—that the fate of whales could become the next marine crisis for Ottawa.
William Halliday