A pod of narwhals swimming near Greenland
A pod of narwhals
NOAA Ocean Explorer

The difficult issue of Arctic warming may simmer beneath the surface of the 59th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, this week in downtown Anchorage, the Hotel Captain Cook, from May 28 to 31.

The international body will be discussing whale management and research, Japanese proposals to ramp up a commercial harvest, and subsistence whaling quotas for Alaska and Siberian Natives. But the forecast of vast changes to the marine world will haunt these issues.

A new report by biologists at the World Wildlife Fund and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says narwhals, belugas and bowhead whales could be driven from their habitats by ship traffic, endure food shortages and be disrupted by by changes in sea ice as warming overtakes their Arctic environment.

Whales in hot water? — published this week online — examines how rising sea temperatures, decreasing salinity, disintegrating floes in some areas, thicker ice in Baffin Strait and shifts in available food might undercut the health of whale populations.

As sea levels change and the ocean becomes more acidic, temperate and tropical cetaceans may be forced to seek new habitats. “Climate change could also be the nail in the coffin for the last 300 or so endangered North Atlantic right whales, as the survival of their calves has been directly related to the effects of climate variability on prey abundance,” added a news release about the report.

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