Thursday, April 27, 2006

Are Killer Whales Moving Up Into Arctic Waters?

CBC News:

Are killer whales becoming more common in the icy waters of Hudson Bay? Researchers hope to find out in the summer.

Scientists with Fisheries and Oceans Canada are going to team up with fishermen in Repulse Bay, Nunavut, and Churchill, Man.

They want to confirm observations by local people that there are more of the black-and-white marine mammals, also known as orcas.

"Oh yes, yes, they are," says Michel Akkuardjuk, the chair of the hunters and trappers organization in Repulse Bay.

"We know that they eat narwhals in Repulse Bay when they come up. Some people, they spotted muqtaq [whale skin blubber] floating on the water."

Microphones to track hunting orcas

While killer whales are found in every ocean, there haven't been a lot of studies on the creatures in Hudson Bay.

At the request of the fishermen, scientists will place underwater microphones close to each of the two communities in order to catch the sound of the animals after a hunt.

"We're assuming here that the killer whales are probably trying to catch and eat beluga, narwhal and maybe bowhead whales," said Steven Ferguson, a marine mammal biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

"So the evidence from past attacks shows that it's after they've killed another whale that they celebrate and make a lot of noise and things."

In July and August, the fishermen will show the researchers the best spot to place the recording equipment.

The sounds will be analyzed in the fall to get a picture of the number of killer whales and their behaviour.

Global warming may have boosted orca population

Ferguson said climate change may be behind the whale's increasing presence in the bay.

"We've looked at the ice data and we think this may be linked to climate warming," he said. "We're getting less sea ice and longer open ice periods in the summer, and so the killer whales are able to move further into Hudson Bay and areas like that than they have in the past."

This study will coincide with another one that is looking at narwhal numbers in the Repulse area.

To see some excellent carvings of killer whales by Northwest Native Indian art carvers like Gary Baker, see Killer Whale Carvings

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