Sperm Whales Pop Up in the Arctic in Startling Sign of Climate Change
Sperm whales are not cut out for frigid water — their bodies contain too much of an oily fat that congeals in cold water and they’re unable to break through ice that forms, meaning they can easily get trapped as winter approaches, according to the Guardian.
Yet two marine life experts spotted a sperm whale in Arctic waters in September, CBC News reports. It was the second known sighting of sperm whales in the region ever recorded, the first occurring in 2014, and it indicates that global waters are warming so rapidly that whales are completely revamping their migration routes with little understanding of the new ecosystems they’re entering.
Marine biologists fear that the whales could get trapped in the region as temperatures plummet.
"When we think about the whales that live in the Arctic year-round, such as bowhead, narwhal, and beluga … they all have a bony ridge [on their head], Brandon Laforest, a marine biologist with the World Wildlife Fund who identified the whales, told CBC.
"When the ice is forming, that fin [on sperm whales] will get in the way, whereas narwhal an bowheads can actually break ice and continue breathing,” he said.
Laforest was joined by Titus Allooloo, an Inuit guide and veteran whaler, who said that he had never seen the whales in the area before.
“They’re not known by us, we don’t know too much about them,” Allooloo told the CBC.
As waters warm and ice recedes in the Arctic, other animals are trying to adapt to the consequences.
For example, killers whales are taking advantage of the longer ice-free seasons to hunt narwhals and other large species, disrupting the habits of these animals that now have to avoid the expanded range of a super predator, the Guardian reports.
On the smaller side of the animal kingdom, krill are adversely affected by warmer Arctic waters, because they depend on ice for shelter during their feeding months. Without ice, krill populations could plunge by 80%, which could have knock-on effects throughout marine food chains.
Land animals such as polar bears and penguins are also experiencing major disruptions to their feeding habits as ice sheets melt.
In California, a vibrant ecosystem revolving around a massive kelp forest is close to collapsing.
The Arctic and Antarctica, however, are undergoing the most dramatic changes and the unraveling of these regions is expected to have devastating consequences for the rest of the world, causing sea levels to rise and disruptions to global climate patterns.