There are probably few more graphic examples of the impacts of recent climate change on nature than the dramatic loss of sea ice in the Artic and how this is affecting some of the worlds’ most iconic species like the polar bear and beluga whale. The world’s attention looks north not just out of genuine concern for a unique and beautiful environment believed to be pristine, but also because we understand that this is a harbinger of what is to come closer to home.
What is happening in the world’s polar regions today are our best indication of what we will be facing throughout the rest of the planet tomorrow
The impacts of rising temperatures are reverberating throughout entire Arctic ecosystems. Apex predators like the polar bear and beluga whale are facing a series of both direct and indirect effects from sea ice loss and increasing storms to shifts in prey availability and increased disturbance from growing human activities such as oil and gas development and shipping. Already, we are seeing impacts including the disruption of migration patterns and lowered body condition. Ultimately such changes will have impacts for the Native peoples of the Arctic.
There is an increased urgency to conducting research that leads to a better understanding of how changes in climate impacts entire Arctic ecosystems including the top predators.
This is critical to our ability to make accurate predictions on the impacts going forward. Only in this way can we respond effectively to emerging issues in the Arctic which is critical to the decisions we need to make elsewhere. A deeper understanding, meaningful predictions and informed decision-making all require hard data.
It is therefore a critical time to be on the ground, …and on the ice, in the Arctic studying these ecosystems, including conducting detailed investigations on key species. Our research focuses on one of those key species, the beluga whale. This Arctic whale, known as the ‘canary of the sea’ for their myriad vocalizations long heard through the hulls of ships and by Native hunters through the ice, may become the ‘canary in the coalmine’ informing us of the impacts on, as well as the resilience of, Arctic marine ecosystems. We are in a race against time to find out how loss of sea ice, increasing human activities and other changes in the Arctic are impacting belugas and whether these sea ghosts have the ability to adapt in time to a rapidly changing Arctic. We are also partnering with Native communities across the Arctic to understand the impacts climate change is having on the Native cultures that depend on the beluga whale.
Social Learning, culture and resilience in beluga whales: Our current research focus is on understanding beluga whale societies and how social learning and cultural innovations may be key to beluga resilience.
We just published a paper based on decades of work across 10 locations in the Arctic, from Alaska to Canada, Russia to Norway, that revealed that beluga whale societies may be more complex than we thought and that individual whales may form long-term affiliations with unrelated individuals as well as with close kin.
Our need: $31,500
Getting to the Arctic, however, is very challenging ….and expensive. Working in these regions is even more so. However, relative to other research approaches in the Artic (e.g., ship-based research) our funding needs are modest. This means that your contributions will go a long way.
We use low impact research methods to minimize disturbance and our footprint on the environment. We setup small field camps in remote locations where we spend weeks unobtrusively studying beluga whales at close quarters. Using the latest technology, including drones, underwater cameras, hydrophones, and genetic sampling alongside tried-and-true field methods we gather detailed scientific data both on the whales and on their ecosystems.
Travel funding: We are looking for support for travel to Native communities and to remote study sites in the Arctic. As we conduct our research in partnership with coastal communities in the far north, we need to regularly travel to these communities to consult on both the research and the pressing issues facing these communities, and to give back by returning and sharing our findings. We are also in need of travel costs to remote field camps and to research planning meetings.
Genetic kit development: We are in need of critical support for the genetic and genomic studies we are conducting on beluga whales and their environments. Our objective is to develop and distribute special genetic sampling kits to communities, scientists and other interested parties in an effort to expand the research reach and to include more people in the science.
Field camp supplies: Field work in the Arctic runs on pilot bread! This is a quote from a friend and colleague that I put great store in. At the end of the day, none of this research is possible if we don’t take care of the basic necessities. Safety, food, shelter and warmth come first in every Arctic expedition. From first aid kits to food, from all-weather clothing to radios we are always in need of support to ensure a safe, productive and happy camp.
Your assistance with any or all of these needs would be greatly appreciated. All donations big and small will go directly to the research.