Climate change may have trapped whales

Posted By: Angelica Montgomery · 1/10/2013 5:28:00 PM

The images of frantic killer whales near Inukjuak, Quebec, may be directly related to climate change, some scientists say.

Videos have circulated around the world of a pod of killer whales surrounded by the ice in the Hudson Bay, and that could only breathe through a single, shrinking hole.

The whales seem to have swum to freedom this morning, but scientists say the whales should not be in the area and are not equipped to survive.

Climate Change

Inuit elder Johnny Williams says he had never before seen killer whales near his village in wintertime.

"I, myself, am very very surprised," he says. "Never seen anything like it."

Dr. Lyne Morissette says the whales should have left the area in October, but may have missed the cue to leave. "Because of all the climate change in the Arctic, these triggers are not the same anymore."

Andrew Trites, professor and director of the marine mammal research unit at UBC, says killer whales are now hunting species in the Arctic that they previously couldn't get to because of the ice.

"There's less ice in the Arctic during the summer months, which has now opened up this habitat for killer whales to be able to move north," he says.

Not equipped

Both Morissette and Trites say the whales have a slim chance of surviving, even though they escaped from the ice trap near Inukjuak.

"The whole area (the Hudson Bay) is covered with ice right now, so they may have escaped from that little hole, but they are still entrapped in the whole Hudson Bay and they have to move out of that," says Morissette.

She says the whales would have to swim hundreds of kilometres north, and then turn south, in order to find open water.

These killer whales can only hold their breath for five minutes, says Morissette. And Trites points out that, unlike Beluguas, they can not break through thin ice to breathe.

He is not optimistic about the whales chances of survival. "My guess is its not very good."

Federal government

A team from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans should arrive in Inukjuak later today to evaluate and monitor the situation.

A spokesperson could not say whether the team will try to track down the whales.

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