Beluga whales modifying what they eat due to climate change, study finds

November 9, 2017, University of Manitoba
Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Finally, some good news for the Greenland halibut, a deep-water flatfish with two eyes on one side of its head: climate change has altered its ecosystem and beluga whales, at times, are less likely to eat them.

Little is currently known about how impacts food webs, but University of Manitoba researchers have gained valuable new insights into how it is affecting , Greenland halibut, and the forage fish they both eat.

David Yurkowski's paper, "Temporal shifts in intraguild predation pressure between beluga whales and Greenland halibut in a changing Arctic," published in Biology Letters, examined 30-years of data to see how flexible the foraging dynamic between beluga and halibut are.

This dynamic is classified as "asymmetrical intraguild predation," the killing and eating of potential competitors, meaning that beluga and halibut eat forage fish, but with whales also eating halibut. Climate change, however, is driving species redistribution around the globe, and in the high Arctic, the forage fish capelin (Mallotus villosus) has recently become more available. Yurkowski found that during summer, belugas are now eating less Greenland halibut while consuming more . The full repercussions of this shift are still unclear but confirm an ecological reconfiguring in part of the food web.

"These findings show how Arctic predators are responding and adjusting to climate change. And these adjustments can modify the dynamics of the food web in many complicated ways, with consequences that reverberate across the entire Arctic food web. It's possible the entire structure and function of the Arctic food web is dramatically changing," says Yurkowski, a post-doctoral fellow in the department of biological sciences at the University of Manitoba.

Explore further: Researchers study Arctic beluga whales with dive data

More information: David J. Yurkowski et al. Temporal shifts in intraguild predation pressure between beluga whales and Greenland halibut in a changing Arctic, Biology Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0433

Related Stories

Study shows beluga whales dive to great depth to catch cod

February 17, 2016

Beluga whales off Alaska's northern coast target Arctic cod and will dive to great depths to reach them, according to data collected over 15 years that provides insight into their foraging patterns in the remote region undergoing ...

Rare beluga data show whales dive to maximize meals

February 12, 2016

Children's singer and songwriter Raffi may have brought beluga whales into popular culture with his 1980 song "Baby Beluga," but surprisingly little is actually known about the life and ecology of these elusive marine mammals ...

Recommended for you

Houseplants could one day monitor home health

July 20, 2018

In a perspective published in the July 20 issue of Science, Neal Stewart and his University of Tennessee coauthors explore the future of houseplants as aesthetically pleasing and functional sirens of home health.

LC10 – the neuron that tracks fruit flies

July 20, 2018

Many animals rely on vision to detect, locate, and track moving objects. Male Drosophila fruit flies primarily use visual cues to stay close to a female and to direct their courtship song towards her. Scientists from the ...

Putting bacteria to work

July 20, 2018

The idea of bacteria as diverse, complex perceptive entities that can hunt prey in packs, remember past experiences and interact with the moods and perceptions of their human hosts sounds like the plot of some low-budget ...

0 comments

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.