Written by By Andy Mukherjee, CNN
The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than ever. This acceleration of ice loss is causing a number of impacts for humans. The animals on the oceans, or polar bears, are one of them.
Polar bears were right there in the thick of it, making it easy to see their sea ice loss. As we watched their kids waddle slowly away, it made us worried about the future.
But researchers now say that the bears that are left have started traveling to the opposite side of the Arctic Circle to seek their prey, a so-called “bonanza to the killer whales.” The whales are finding the arctic sea an unusually rich hunting ground.
The whale hunting party of Whales Leaving the Strait of Alaskana
If they aren’t finding food in their home waters, a food shortage is likely to lead to trouble, as researchers are reporting.
Over the past decade, whaling has continued unabated in the North Pacific (North America and northwest Europe), with over 450 harpooning boats churning out their catches in around 15,000 fishing trips each year.
But can you say “to quota” in this dangerous place?
These whales are getting bigger and younger. And as these whales grow, they should experience a period of declining whale kill rates.
But this doesn’t seem to be happening.
Overall, whale population growth in the North Pacific region has been poor, and the few whales that remain are suffering from a host of species stress.
This is because the food they are using to feed is declining in Alaska, or deep in the Bering Sea, where only two years ago several large whales died in a single season.
Once the adults die, the calves never properly feed and often die before they become fully grown. The gap is filled by new whales, or by helping other animals, such as seabirds, feed off the plankton that whales need to survive.
Polar Bear Ice Shelters for Husbands
This increase in whale deaths is especially dangerous for polar bears, which are intelligent, resourceful and sophisticated animals with powerful predatory instincts.
They are known to know how to get out of deep freeze water faster than most of us.
Big whales are getting bigger because big polar bears have moved inland to feed, before starting to recover.
But they need big polar bears to keep their old food sources alive. Polar bears need to leave their vast denning sites under cover of the ice to feed in the daylight.
Big Whales Offer Great Stargazing
The whales are biting the ice berries and with four generations of growth in their throats and because they are big and dominant they don’t care that their food is in a dire situation, and they continue their hunt.
The North Pacific is undergoing a massive die-off. It may also be the end of the polar bear; the scars these whales are leaving behind will be quite unusual.
But it’s only the beginning of the story.
CNN’s Andy Mukherjee visits an Australia nature reserve.
One has to assume that with global warming, the orcas will follow with their older sons and daughters who are a bit older. The exact circumstances of this eventuality is hard to predict, but it is likely to be challenging to manage, given the stark contrast between predator and prey.
The die-off of whales is happening worldwide. In Europe, the cod populations are collapsing, coupled with rising sea temperatures and warmer water conditions that are leading to populations of sub-tropical salmon flooding inland salmon-feeding areas.
Polar bears and orcas seem to be jumping through hoops they never had to jump through before, but are they next to get left behind?
It’s too early to answer that.
The long view
But if we are truly talking about what scientists call a “broad anthropogenic climate change”, the time for mitigating the damage has not come.
And right now is not the time to try.
Europe, along with the United States, is beginning to awaken to the full magnitude of the impact of climate change in the region and globally.
As we witness unprecedented weather shifts with the Atlantic tropical cyclone season showing a greater frequency and intensity of intense storms, the time for rejoicing that the jet stream over our continent is just north of New England and not over the Arctic is coming to an end.