Warming Whale-Ways

The Atlantic and Pacific just got a little closer. Scientists have followed two bowhead whales that entered the Northwest Passage from opposite ends and met in the middle.

Once braved by only the boldest explorers, the Northwest Passage is a tangle of ice and islands now used as a shipping route. As sea ice melts, the passage’s channels are widening.

A report in Biology Letters shares how two whales, tracked by satellite transmitters, passed “within 130 km of each other.”

While this is not necessarily the first Atlantic-Pacific bowhead whale exchange, this is the first scientific evidence of whales traveling through the passage in thousands of years. Climate change is melting away icy geographic barriers.

It’s also—if you’ll pardon the expression—just the tip of the iceberg. If whales can pass, there’s a good chance other unprecedented but harder-to-track marine life is traversing the passage. This could lead to big changes for both oceans.

Humpbacks are among the whales hunted by Japanese whalers. Photo: Barbara LaCorte, Channel Islands Naturalist Corps

In other whale news, Japan’s minister of fisheries has decided to continue whale hunting in the Antarctic, after convening a committee to discuss the point. They’ll be going in with extra security in response to the disruptions caused by groups like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. As the BBC’s Richard Black points out in his breakdown of the politics of the decision, it’s possible that Japan sees ending whaling now as “surrender to the Sea Shepherd.”

You can read more about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, made famous by “Whale Wars,” in Nathan Ehrlich’s post.

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