Bowhead Whale Population Recovers Despite Arctic Warming
According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report card on the species, bowhead whales are the true Arctic baleen whale species and the only one that lives in the cold waters year-round. In the 1700s, they were targeted for their oil, blubber and baleen, or whalebone. Because they're slow-moving and large, they made easy targets and were nearly hunted to extinction by the start of the 20th century.
According to NOAA, the cessation of whaling, improved management and the general inaccessibility of their habitats helped several populations rebound, including the U.S. one off the coast of Alaska.
Still, the Arctic is drastically changing due to the climate crisis, with immense loss of sea ice, soaring temperatures and raging wildfires. This grim reality has caused many to conclude that "The Arctic is Dying."
News from the Arctic has been almost uniformly bad, but the bowhead's conservation success, especially for the U.S. population off of Alaska, stands out as a beacon of hope, The Guardian reported. The NOAA report card found that the whales' recovery actually had accelerated despite Arctic warming.
"This is really one of the great conservation successes of the last century," said J Craig George, a retired biologist with the North Slope borough department of wildlife management, reported The Guardian.
George also credited the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) for their sustainable management and stewardship of the species, the Guardian said. AEWC fought against offshore oil drilling and other activities that could harm whales.
"No one has fought harder than the AEWC to protect bowhead habitat from industrial development in the U.S. Arctic," George told The Guardian.
According to the report, scientists were surprised by the whales' population expansion in recent decades. Biologists expected the cold-adapted species to suffer from melting sea ice, but instead, they observed how warmer Arctic seas are becoming more productive by bringing additional nutrients and food for the bowheads, resulting in more successful pregnancies. Now, scientists are looking to the cetaceans to provide broader insights into Arctic marine ecosystem health.
Despite the gains, the bowheads' future is still uncertain. According to NOAA, all bowhead whales remain endangered throughout their range. Oil drilling by Shell in the Beaufort Sea remains a real threat. Scientists also predict that there could be an end to Arctic sea ice by 2035. Melting ice would provide less cover against fishing gear, ship collisions and orca predators as the climate continues to change. Even the increase in food sources could attract competitor baleen whales. And of course, the climate crisis continues.
"They really are headed into an uncertain future," George told The Guardian.
- Arctic Ship Traffic Threatens Narwhals and Other Extraordinary ... ›
- Trump Administration Approves Exploratory Drilling in Arctic Ocean ... ›
- Underwater Seismic Blasting Puts Arctic at Risk - EcoWatch ›
- Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Groups Vow 'The Fight Is ... ›
- Keystone XL Pipeline Construction to Forge Ahead During ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Monir Ghaedi
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep most of Europe on pause, the EU aims for a breakthrough in its space program. The continent is seeking more than just a self-sufficient space industry competitive with China and the U.S.; the industry must also fit into the European Green Deal.
European satellites continue to provide data on climate change.
In 2018, a team of researchers went to West Africa's Nimba Mountains in search of one critically endangered species of bat. Along the way, they ended up discovering another.
- Eek! Bat Populations Are Shrinking. Here Are A Few Ways to Help ... ›
- First Bat Removed From U.S. Endangered Species List Helps ... ›
- What We've Lost: The Species Declared Extinct in 2020 - EcoWatch ›
By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
Ask a Scientist: What Should the Biden Administration and Congress Do to Address the Climate Crisis?
By Elliott Negin
What a difference an election makes. Thanks to the Biden-Harris victory in November, the next administration is poised to make a 180-degree turn to again address the climate crisis.
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
- Joe Biden Appoints Climate Crisis Team - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Plans to Fight Climate Change in a New Way - EcoWatch ›