FEB 20, 2018 6:59 PM PST

Beluga Whales Dive Deeper and Longer for Food Amid Sea Ice Loss

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

You’ve already heard the stories about how sea ice loss impacts polar bears in the Arctic, but have you heard the one about beluga whales?

Melting sea ice could force beluga whales to drive deeper for extended periods of time.

Image Credit: Pixabay

A new study published in the journal Diversity and Distributions by University of Washington researchers notes how Arctic ice loss could be impacting how Chukchi beluga whales hunt for prey.

In particular, it seems they have to dive deeper and for more extended periods of time just to find food. The researchers reached this conclusion after analyzing two spurts of beluga whale tracking data captured between both 1999-2002 and 2004-2012.

"I think this paper is novel in that we're presenting some of the first indirect effects of sea ice loss for an Arctic whale species," elucidated study lead author Donna Hauser from the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center.

"As changes in sea ice affect oceanographic properties, that could be affecting the distribution, abundance or species composition of prey for belugas."

Related: Habitat loss for Arctic polar bears isn't getting any better

During the first bout of data from 1999-2002, the researchers noted diving depths averaging 50 meters for approximately 20 minutes once per day. The second bout of data from 2004-2012, on the other hand, revealed diving depths averaging 64 meters for the same amount of time, but three times per day instead of once.

The study underscores how melting sea ice, driven by climate change, continues to worsen with time and how it could be impacting beluga whale prey behavior. In turn, beluga whales are modifying their hunting habits to survive. According to the researchers, this may have a negative impact on the whales’ bodies.

"Reduced sea ice cover over a longer period of time over the summer could mean improved foraging for belugas," Hauser continued. "But it's also important to recognize these changes in diving behavior are energetically costly."

Related: A link between the Northern lights and whale beachings?

Notably, more research is needed to fully understand how this change in hunting behavior impacts beluga whale health. But if it’s in any way comparable to how narwhals react to highly-stressful deep ocean dives, then it could be somewhat alarming.

Source: University of Washington

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 05, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Bullock's & Baltimore Orioles May Mix, But They Won't Merge
AUG 05, 2020
Bullock's & Baltimore Orioles May Mix, But They Won't Merge
Researchers have data that can finally settle a long controversy in the birding world.
AUG 18, 2020
Immunology
How Dolphins Could Help Us Live Longer
AUG 18, 2020
How Dolphins Could Help Us Live Longer
Dolphins are helping scientists answer the age-old question: can we stop the clock when it comes to aging? A recent stud ...
AUG 24, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Vets Warn Against Using CBD for Pets
AUG 24, 2020
Vets Warn Against Using CBD for Pets
As cannabis products have grown in popularity, the stigma around them is falling, while knowledge is increasing. CBD, th ...
AUG 28, 2020
Plants & Animals
Will Traps Solve the Invasive Lionfish Problem?
AUG 28, 2020
Will Traps Solve the Invasive Lionfish Problem?
Extravagant and spiny lionfish were once highly sought after by home aquarium hobbyists. These venomous fish are native ...
SEP 14, 2020
Plants & Animals
Preserving the Avocado
SEP 14, 2020
Preserving the Avocado
Rest easy, chips-and-dip lovers, the world's guacamole supply has been secured for future generations.
NOV 23, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Wildfires put 4,400 species at risk worldwide
NOV 23, 2020
Wildfires put 4,400 species at risk worldwide
An international collaboration between 27 researchers led by the University of Melbourne has concluded that over 4,400 s ...
Loading Comments...