A part-time Arctic researcher eager for media attention suggested earlier today that the ice entrapment of narwhals in 2008 and again in 2015 at Pond Inlet (that made headlines around the world) was the result of “sudden changes in temperature” caused by climate change. This grossly misleading claim ignores the facts: ice entrapment of narwhals is an entirely natural feature of the Arctic that has been known about for hundreds of years.
“Narwhals: the ‘giant unicorn of the sea’ at risk from climate change” (CBC, 13 August 2016), a print version of a CBC Radio interview with Clint Wright that aired 8 August 2016. Wright is the general manager at the Vancouver Aquarium and apparently has “joined a team of researchers to tag and study” narwhals for several years – but does not seem to know much about the history or circumstances of natural ice entrapment.
Ice entrapment of small whales is nothing new. The first formally documented incident – in English – occurred in 1915 (Porsild 1918) and the phenomenon has probably occurred as long as there has been ice in the Arctic (millions of years).
Animals routinely become trapped in a few specific areas due to local geography: when ice that forms in the north moves south quickly, it blocks the entrances to inlets or coastal bays that still have open water. The presence of the pack ice causes nearby temperatures to drop quickly. Rapid development of ice on the bay proceeds from the mouth toward the head of the bay. Any whales present cannot escape to open water and will eventually die or be eaten.
Pond Inlet at the north end of Baffin Island is one such place but Disko Bay in western Greenland is another. In fact, Pond Inlet and Disko Bay are almost identical in geographic layout even though they lie on opposite sides of Baffin Bay, so it’s not surprising that both are locations of repeated entrapment events.
Three highly informative journal articles on the phenomenon of ice entrapment of narwhals and beluga are open access documents that reveal some fascinating details of such incidents, including polar bear predation on trapped whales. h/t T. Nelson Continue reading
Posted in History, Life History, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged Arctic, baffin bay, beluga, climate, climate change, Clint Wright, Disko Bay, entrapment, facts, global warming, narwhal, polar bear, Pond Inlet, predation, prey, risk, sea ice, threatened, trapped, unicorn, Vancouver Aquarium, weather, whales
According to reports from folks on the ground in Western Hudson Bay, most polar bears were out on the ice resuming seal hunting by the 20th or 21st November at the latest (some got started quite a bit earlier). That’s less than 2 weeks later than the average date in the 1980s (which was November 8).
However, the rather odd pattern of freeze-up this year may not be good news for any killer whales still remaining in Hudson Bay – their access to the open ocean is already virtually blocked by ice.
UPDATE 26 November 2015: What a difference a day makes! Look at the spectacular ice development overnight along the west coast of Hudson Bay and in the central portion of the bay since yesterday (below).
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged beluga, Cape Churchill, Churchill, freeze-up, Hudson Bay freeze-up, Hudson Strait, hunting, killer whale, Nanuk Lodge, polar bear, polar bear alert, problem bears, sea ice
It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. As a special treat, I thought I’d point you in the direction of a delightful bit of video footage of beluga whales.
If you haven’t seen this Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation clip already, it’s worth a few minutes. It’s footage of belugas and their calves frolicking in the shallow water of Cunningham Inlet, on Somerset Island, Nunavut (within the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation, which is north of the Gulf of Boothia subpopulation region that I discussed previously here and here).
While I previously surmised that Gulf of Boothia polar bears might hunt beluga from remnant ice during the summer in years when the ice doesn’t totally melt (like they do in Hudson Bay, see belugas as food for hungry polar bears), it appears they also successfully hunt beluga in shallow waters like those found in Cunningham Inlet. But there is no hunting footage in this post.
Link and further info below, including a map and references on beluga, and polar bear predation on beluga in this region.
Posted in Life History
Tagged Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation, beluga, beluga whale, Cunningham Inlet, Delphinapterus leucas, DFO, Gulf of Boothia, High Arctic, Lancaster Sound, Monodon monoceros, narwhal, polar bears, Prince Regent Inlet, Somerset Island