Whales, algae cross melting Arctic for first time in eons

First this year, in June, came the algae

A single-celled alga that went extinct in the North Atlantic Ocean about 800,000 years ago has returned after drifting from the Pacific through the Arctic thanks to melting polar ice. And while its appearance marks the first trans-Arctic migration in modern times, scientists say it signals something potentially bigger.

"It is an indicator of rapid change and what might come if the Arctic continues to melt," said Chris Reid, a professor of oceanography at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in the United Kingdom.

Now researchers have tracked a pair of bowhead whales crossing the Arctic: 

For the first time, scientists have documented bowhead whales traveling from opposite sides of the Canadian High Arctic and mingling in the Northwest Passage, a usually ice-clogged route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans…. 

The rapid loss of Arctic sea ice in recent years — earlier this month ice reached record lows and has declined dramatically since continuous measurements began in 1979 — has probably made this intermingling easier, the researchers write in a study published online in the journal Biology Letters on Sept 1.

"Given recent rates of sea ice loss, climate change may eliminate geographical divisions between stocks of bowhead whales and open new areas that have not been inhabited by bowhead whales for millennia," they write.  

800,000 years. Millennia. Think of that. This is a new world we're entering — rapidly.

Bowhead-whale-hmed-3p.grid-6x2
[pic of bowhead whales from NOAA] 

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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