Killer Whales Who Were Trapped by Ice – Power Companies May Be to Blame

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March 25, 2013
“Wildlife entrapments and extensive freshwater in Hudson Bay correspond with cold winter conditions and record hydroelectricity demands in the south.”

“There’s a connection between the freshwater plumes sent into Hudson Bay from the Quebec power corporation’s huge dams and the quick freezing of water in the bay which led to entrapments of eiders, beluga and killer whales this past winter, suggests Joel Heath, a biologist whose film People of the Feather about Sanikiluaq hunters and eider ducks, received acclaim.
The connection is worth studying, he said, because although entrapments occur naturally, this past winter there were at least three occurrences in southern Hudson Bay.”.  (More).

orca2_copy trapped in ice

In January 2013, a family of orcas were discovered struggling to keep a breathing hole open, and although no one can say for sure it looks like the sea conditions changed overnight and the whales escaped.

“The mammals’ plight captivated the world after video taken by Inuit residents of the the Inukjuak community circulated on television and social media, showing the killer whales taking turns bobbing above the Bay’s icy waters.

“It’s amazing to see how they managed to find a strategy to share that little space and organize who’s going to breathe and when, because they all needed to breathe every five minutes and they found the strategy for the survival of the group and not the survival of the strongest.”
Thousands of supporters offered money and equipment to free the whales, and news of their escape Thursday – two days after they were spotted – spurred celebrations online.” (More).

Although there is no doubt that the fast pace of global warming in the Arctic is responsible for changing migratory patterns of both prey and predator, that is not the full story. As fast as the climate is changing, humans continue to alter the environment in a reckless thirst for energy in a time frame that makes adaptation impossible.  Overnight, an unseasonable flush of fresh water dilutes the surface water and allows salt intrusion up rivers – this is devastating to the environment on many levels, but for the large marine predators it is both bewildering and unpredictable.

“Within the past thirty-five years, Inuit hunters in Sanikiluaq have observed major changes in the regional sea ice environment. The Belcher Islands are located in southern Hudson Bay, near the mouth of James Bay. In the 1970s, the government of Québec began installing a series of hydroelectric dams on rivers in the James Bay watershed. Subsequent changes in water flow affected aquatic ecology, currents, and sea ice not only in James Bay, but also further north in Hudson Bay.

In the past, the ice conditions and the floe directions were more predictable, and traditional knowledge helped hunters navigate the sea ice to find food. Over the past few decades, however, the sea ice has become less stable and increasingly unpredictable, limiting where Sanikiluaq’s hunters can go and when they can travel. Changes in sea ice conditions has also made hunting more dangerous, and made it difficult for hunters and elders to discern which traditional knowledge is still safe and reliable to pass on to young hunters and community members.

beluga ice“Environmental changes are also affecting the quality of the animals hunters do find. In a 2006 interview, hunter Peter Kattuk said, “Beluga whales in springtime usually float when you kill them, not drown. Last year, there were more belugas that drowned.” Belugas usually have a thick layer of fat that makes them buoyant, making it easier for hunters to retrieve them from the water. The belugas Kattuk hunted that year were often lacking enough fat to float, meaning that they sunk and were lost to the hunters. He said, “They should have more fat because the ice is more open now for the last five years. But last spring they were more drowned. Maybe it is less food or something.”  (More).

beluga ice 2
 “One of the main problems with freshwater plumes occurring in mid-winter instead of spring is that freshwater freezes much quicker and at warmer temperatures than salt water, and so extensive areas can freeze up rapidly, entrapping wildlife. Freshwater ice has a different consistency and is less flexible than salt water ice, which can change the structure of sea ice habitats.”  (More)

orca ice 3
Bloody from battering to keep the breathing hole open.

orca ice 2
“The lessons you’ve learned, whether you’re wildlife or human, don’t apply. You’ve got a radically different, changing system. Those tools and experiences are actually not relevant anymore.”   Joel Heath

waters-edge_1786282i polar bear

The animals have it tough enough surviving in the face of climate change, but when the power companies hide behind the curtain of global warming while they destroy what little chance these iconic species have to survive it is disgraceful.

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