Global Warming

Climate change forces Arctic animals to shift feeding habits

Seals and whales in the Arctic are shifting their feeding patterns as climate change alters their habitats, and the way they do so may determine whether they survive, a new study has found.

Researchers harnessed datasets spanning two decades to examine how two species of Arctic wildlife — white whales and ringed seals — are adapting to their changing homes.

Both species traditionally hunt for food in areas with sea ice and particularly at so-called tidal glacier fronts, where glaciers meet the ocean. But with climate change melting sea ice and prompting glaciers to retreat, researchers in Norway decided to look at whether and how animals in the affected areas were adapting.

The data showed that two decades ago, both species spent around half their time foraging at glacier fronts and eating a diet dominated by polar cod.

Seals stuck with their old diet, but appeared to spend more time searching for the food at the glacier fronts. White whales meanwhile are spending less time near glacier fronts and more time in the centre of fjords.

The “flexible” response apparently shown by the whales “improves their chances of adapting to warming conditions”, the researchers added. By contrast, the apparent doubling down by the ringed seals on their traditional hunting grounds despite the shifting climate “reflects limited adaptability and resilience”. And that could be bad news for the seals in a changing world, the study warns.

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