NOAA researcher says Arctic marine mammals are ecosystem sentinels

February 13, 2014
NOAA researcher says Arctic marine mammals are ecosystem sentinels
White killer whale swimming with its pod near the Aleutian Islands. Photo: H. Fearnbach, NMML, NMFS permit 782-1719.

As the Arctic continues to see dramatic declines in seasonal sea ice, warming temperatures and increased storminess, the responses of marine mammals can provide clues to how the ecosystem is responding to these physical drivers.

Seals, walruses and rely on seasonal sea ice for habitat and must adapt to the sudden loss of ice, while such as whales appear to be finding new prey, altering migration timing and moving to new habitats.

"Marine mammals can act as ecosystem sentinels because they respond to climate change through shifts in distribution, timing of their movements and feeding locations," said Sue Moore, Ph.D., a NOAA oceanographer, who spoke today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago. "These long-lived mammals also reflect changes to the ecosystem in their shifts in diet, body condition and physical health."

Moore, who was part of a panel of U.S. and Canadian scientists on the health of marine mammals and indigenous people in the Arctic, stressed the importance of integrating health research into the overall climate, weather, oceanographic and on changes in the Arctic.

"Marine mammals connect people to ecosystem research by making it relevant to those who live in the Arctic and depend on these mammals for diet and cultural heritage and people around the world who look to these animals as symbols of our planet's health," Moore said.

Explore further: Arctic marine mammals on thin ice

More information: Additional detail on ecosystem responses to Arctic climate change is available at the NOAA Arctic Report Card web site:

For information on the Distributed Biological Observatory, a change detection array that brings together physical and biological observations in the Arctic go to this site:

Related Stories

Arctic marine mammals on thin ice

April 23, 2008

The loss of sea ice due to climate change could spell disaster for polar bears and other Arctic marine mammals. The April Special Issue of Ecological Applications examines such potential effects, puts them in historical ...

Recommended for you

Climate scientist hits out at IPCC projections

October 13, 2015

As a new chairman is appointed to the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change (IPCC) a University of Manchester climate expert has said headline projections from the organisation about future warming are 'wildly over optimistic.'

'Bridge' fuel may escalate atmospheric greenhouse gas

October 13, 2015

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests there has been a decline in measurable atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use in the U.S. for the past seven years, a Cornell scientist says ...

Study sees powerful winds carving away Antarctic snow

October 13, 2015

A new study has found that powerful winds are removing massive amounts of snow from parts of Antarctica, potentially boosting estimates of how much the continent might contribute to sea level. Up to now, scientists had thought ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.