Arctic ice melt, increased shipping endangers whales: study

Predictions difficult due to increased ice floe melt, data provided by different models, expert says

Melting ice caused by climate change has given ships more access to Arctic waters, which researchers say could have serious consequences for the survival of bowhead and beluga whales.

Lauren McWhinnie is the lead author on a study that says there is a window of opportunity to address the harmful effects of increased shipping on the whales’ environment before they become more threatened.

“In most situations we kind of employ this fire fighting technique when it comes to conservation with animals,” said McWhinnie, who is a researcher at the University of Victoria.

In most cases animal populations need to be visibly declining before protection against human impacts are carried out, she said in an interview.

“But up there, this is our chance to learn for once, and hopefully be proactive.”

McWhinnie’s research group looked at different vessel management schemes that might be adapted for Arctic waters. The group studied over 1,000 marine protected areas and identified 14 different tools across four categories that would be suitable for the Arctic.

“We have spatial tools, vessel tools, and monitoring and outreach tools, and what the study suggests is you should look at employing a suite of tools, one from each one of these tool boxes to be effective” she said.

The study reviewed satellite data on shipping traffic between 2012 and 2016 in the eastern Beaufort Sea at the entrance to the Northwest Passage, one of the major shipping routes through the Canadian Arctic.

The size of the passage allows for larger ships to enter the Arctic, a distinct problem for bowhead whales.

“With the longer season that’s ice-free there’s more time for those types of those vessels to go through, and we know they’re the kind of vessels, particularly for ship strikes, that pose a danger to bowheads” she said.

The study, which will be published in the journal of Ocean and Coastal Management next month, says warming weather conditions in the Arctic are already changing the amount and thickness of the Arctic ice.

“The resulting extended ‘open water’ season has many implications for vessel traffic and marine life,” the study says.

“There’s a spatial and temporal overlap to the shipping season up there and the whales’ season,” McWhinnie said.

The proposed whale protection measures would only significantly affect very large, fast vessels travelling further away from the shoreline, rather than smaller community boats operating closer to the shore, the study says.

McWhinnie added the noise problem is not species-specific and affects all creatures in the icy Arctic waters that use echolocation to communicate and hunt for food.

“It’s a whole ecosystem that’s potentially going to be facing these changes, because of the sea ice there are other conditions, the warming of the water as well they’re already contending with, the vessel traffic is a low-hanging fruit.”

When asked about the length of time left to protect the Arctic marine wildlife, McWhinnie said predictions are difficult because of the increased ice floe melt and data provided by different models.

“Unfortunately that’s the $36-million question.”

The study was co-authored with experts at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Tarp structure on Warden Street to be removed

Property owner has 30 days to comply with the city’s request

SD28 reveals new school bus schedule; hits back at City Council

District says Board of Education did not make formal request to alter BC Transit schedule

BC SPCA launches Wildlife-in-Focus Photography Contest

Enter the 10th annual photography contest by September

Arraignment date set for local theft suspect

Earl Edward Roper has been in and out of court for Blackwater Road bust charges since January

One-woman show coming to Wells’ Sunset Theatre

The show will be performed on July 19 and Aug. 23, 2018

Trudeau asks transport minister to tackle Greyhound’s western pullout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s asked Transport Minister Marc Garneau to find solutions in Greyhound Canada’s absence.

Hub for mental health and addictions treatment opens at B.C. hospital

St. Paul’s Hospital HUB is an acute medical unit that includes 10 patient beds

Restaurant Brands International to review policy over poaching employees

One of Canada’s largest fast-food company to review ‘no-poach’ franchise agreements

Calgary family’s vacation ends in tragedy on Texas highway

Three people died and four others were injured in the crash

Union construction cost competitive, B.C. Building Trades say

Non-union firms can bid on infrastructure, but employees have to join international unions

Trudeau to shuffle cabinet ahead of Liberals’ team for 2019

Trudeau could lighten the work loads of cabinet ministers who currently oversee more than one portfolio

Car calls 911 on possible impaired B.C. driver

A luxury car automatically calls Princeton police to scene of crash involving alcohol

BC Games marks 40 years in 2018

Cowichan Games a milestone for BC Games Society

VIDEO: Life’s a beach at this B.C. sand sculpting contest

More than $50,000 was up for grabs at the annual contest held in Parksville

Most Read