Arctic waters are deathly cold and very difficult to navigate. This makes tracking and monitoring the beluga whales that live there extremely difficult. However, advances in tagging technology in the last couple of decades have enabled scientists to monitor beluga whales closely and learn more about their distribution, foraging, and migration patterns. Gathering and analyzing comprehensive data on belugas is vital to understanding the effects of a warming climate on marine mammals.
With the help of new advanced tagging technology, University of Washington biologists have been able to track 30 beluga whales for the last 15 years. They recently published the results of their work. Until now, only basic information about these mammals, such as physical features, lifespan, diet, and social behaviour, was known. The findings of this research have shed new light on the distribution and foraging patterns of the species.
The study shows that there are two distinct populations of beluga whales. During winter when the Arctic freezes, both whale populations migrate to the Bering Sea. As the Arctic melts in the summer, the whales migrate and spread out to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The beluga whales migrate to these regions mainly because of the presence of arctic cod in the area. They frequently dive to depths of 650 to 1,000 feet to feed on the arctic cods. In search of prey, the whales even descend to the bottom of the ocean beds.
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Beluga whales are unique because they are among the few marine mammal species that live in the Arctic region. The area has been dramatically affected by global warming, and it remains unfrozen for longer periods than it used to be. Tracking beluga whales can help scientists determine whether the whales’ migrating patterns and geographical distribution change with fluctuations in the sea ice conditions in the Arctic. In addition, as shipping activities and noise disturbances increase in certain sea areas, scientists are interested to find out if the marine mammals migrate out of these regions.
Scientists state that there is a lot more work that needs to be done to understand the behaviours of beluga whales if we hope to successfully protect them and their habitat. Learn more about beluga whales, and watch as hundreds gather together at the Cunningham Inlet in Nunavut, Canada.Whizzco