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 polar bears rely on seasonal
sea ice for habitat and must adapt to the sudden loss of ice, while
migratory species 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
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 marine mammal health
research into the overall climate, weather, oceanographic and social
science research 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.
Additional detail on aspects of
Arctic climate change and marine ecosystem responses is available at the
NOAA Arctic Report Card web site: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/
information on the Distributed Biological Observatory, a change
detection array that brings together physical and biological
observations in the Arctic go to: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/dbo/about.html
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