The Effect of Melting Arctic Sea Ice on Arctic Whales

A. Paulin \ Oceans First, Issue 3, 2016, pgs. 1-9.

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Abstract: In the past few decades, Arctic sea ice has been experiencing some dramatic changes due in large part to climate change. Arctic sea ice is melting and decreasing in both surface area and thickness. Annual ice melt and freeze timings are being altered. These changes affect the precarious balance of the Arctic ecosystem from the microscopic organisms to its largest inhabitants, the Arctic whales. The factors influencing Arctic cetaceans include ultraviolet radiation exposure, invasive species, and killer whale predation. The reduced sea ice cover decreases the net reflectivity of the Arctic, increasing absorption of UV rays in Arctic waters which cause skin lesions in whales and reduce primary production. With reduced sea ice cover, invasive species – including predatory killer whales – have been extending their ranges northward, creating a possible competition for food with endemic Arctic species. Arctic whales are very susceptible to changes in their habitat and may not be able to survive the present rate of change in their environment. This review synthesizes data gathered from previous studies on the impacts of decreasing sea ice extent on Arctic cetaceans in an effort to better assess the conservation status of the three species.