Whales and the Arctic

Most of us don’t think about it, but the Arctic is home to 17 different species of whales. From these, only Belugas, bowheads and narwhales inhabit the Arctic all year round. Other species like the grey whale and humpback only migrate to the cool Arctic waters during summer in search of food and to give birth.

Beluga Whales they are the so called “white” whales, which you have probably seen a few times. They are one of the smallest species of whales on our planet. Apart from being the only whales that are white, another feature that makes them unique is that they are the only whales that can turn their neck in all directions. Beluga whales are incredibly sociable mammals. They hunt migrate and live together in pods all year round. They are also called “the canary of the sea” due to being very vocal. They use click, chirps and whistles to communicate between each other.

Bowhead Whales are second only in size to blue whales. They have the longest baleen of any whale. As well as lacking a dorsal fin, bowhead whales have a distinctive double-humped surface profile, an enormous arched upper jaw and a strongly bowed mouth-line. This is were the name comes from. Bowhead whales are associated with ice floes therefore their movement patters are influenced by the melting and freezing of the ice in the Arctic. Based in findings from recover stone harpoon heads and the analysis of eye tissue, scientists believe that the bowhead whale may be the longest-living animals in the world.

Gray Whales are a dark slate grey colour with patches over their bodies. Instead of dorsal fins they have a small dorsal hump on the lower end of the back. They travel in pods and can swim over 20,000 kilometres every yea, which is a lot! This round trip from the Alaskan waters in the summer to warmer waters off the coast of Mexico during the winter, is the longest known annual migration of any mammal in the world. One of the characteristics that make these whales unique is that they feed foraging along the ocean floor looking for food.

Narwhales, the unicorns of the sea. They are very distinctive animals with their long spiral tusks protruding from their faces. In actual fact, the ivory tusk is the upper left canine of the narwhale. They use it to hit and stun their prey. These tusks can grow as long as 3 meters and have amazing sensory capabilities, with as many as 10 million nerve endings inside. They spend their lives in the Arctic waters of Russia, Svalbard, Greenland, and Canada.

 

Climate Change and the effect on these animals:

As mentioned at the start, bowhead, narwhales and beluga whales live all year round in the Arctic and they are in particular danger due to warmer climate and changes in the migration patterns. Also, climate change, depletion in the ozone layer and the related rise in UV radiation is having an effect on krill, which is the primary source of food for many of these animals.

Whales play a key part in helping to combat climate change through their role in the marine ecosystem. They play a vital role in the health of the oceans where they help provide up to 50% of our oxygen, combat climate change and sustain fish stocks. So in simple word, the more whales there are, the healthier the oceans will be and the less carbon dioxide there will be in the atmosphere.

Written by – Andy Lewis Martinez