Climate Change Trapping Orcas In The Arctic

by Valeria Hester

The climate of the arctic is harsh and ever changing with the seasons.  In summer, relatively warmer conditions usher in a season of bounty where many creatures migrate to feed and in winter, cold winds cover most of the landscape with a stifling layer of snow and ice.  One of the top predators of the marine mammal world, the orca or killer whale,  is one of the seasonal commuters to this all you can eat feeding ground in summer.

Generally by the late fall, orcas would have had their fill of fish and seals and would be heading south with their pods to warmer wintering grounds.   This year though, a pod was discovered trapped underneath the ice in northern Quebec around Christmas  very late in the season for them to be this far north.  They were spotted by locals coming up for air in a small 10ft area that was not frozen over a great distance from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Typically, the cadence of winter sea ice is that it forms in late fall and then melts in late spring when the sun and warmer temperatures make life in these areas flourish.   Over the past few years though, the sea ice has been more variable and in the winter of 2012 had not yet formed even by Christmas which confused the whales and might have led them to continue feeding.   All the evidence here points to climate changes that we can observ from high above causing this disruption in the ecosystems here on earth’s surface.

Type C killer whales in the Ross Sea. The eye ...

Type C killer whales in the Ross Sea. The eye patch slants forward. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How Will The Whales Escape The Ice?

People in the town of Inuktitut had asked the Canadian government to send an Ice breaker to free the whales.  The government only agreed to send a team to investigate the situation though, as all the ice breaking ships were already on assignments further south.  It was thought that if the orcas had to wait for spring, surely some if not all would perrish from stress and lack of food.

In a happy twist, we are happy to say that shifting winds a few days later changed the ice flow and lead to the opening of a passage for these whales to escape through to the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

This is yet another scary reminder of how the changing climate patterns we are seeing not only affect our human lives, but those of top predators around the planet.


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