'Near Threatened' Beluga Whales in Danger as Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks Due to Global Warming
Global warming is increasingly becoming a threat not just to humans and to the environment, but to the majestic Beluga whales as well. A new report concludes that as the Arctic sea ice continues to disappear, Beluga whales are running out of food.
In a report from The Guardian, Thomas Brown from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (Sams), says Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) have been greatly affected by the changing landscape of the Arctic sea ice, showing behavioral changes in order to survive.
On March 7, NASA reported that the Arctic sea ice has reached a record low wintertime maximum extent at 14.43 million square kilometers, which is 97, 000 square kilometers below the previous record low.
This dramatic sea ice record affects the formation of zooplankton, the base food of the Arctic food chain. These tiny creatures are eaten by worms that are then eaten by fish, which is a major food source for Beluga whales.
Global warming plays a key role in this symbiotic relationship because as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels increase in the atmosphere, less Arctic sea ice and algae are formed.
“It is very simple: if you take the sea ice away, you cannot have sea ice algae. It’s all in the name, really," Brown told The Guardian.
Due to the decreasing Arctic sea ice, Beluga whales have adapted different ways to survive. For example, Brown notes that these creatures are now fishing further in open waters in order to find food.
Julienne Stroeve, professor of Polar Observation & Modelling at University College London, says that as humans continue to pump high amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, the summer Arctic sea ice will likely disappear by the middle of the century.
Beluga whales are classified as a "near threatened" species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Beluga whales' major threats include hunting for human consumption and for display (mainly in Russia), oil and gas development, industrial and urban pollution and hyroelectric development.
Apart from declining food resources, climate change also affects Beluga whales as it may result to climate-induced geographic shifts and altered reproduction, IUCN notes.