Sea surface temperature predicts the movements of an Arctic cetacean: the bowhead whale

Philippine Chambault*, Christoffer Moesgaard Albertsen, Toby A. Patterson, Rikke G. Hansen, Outi Tervo, Kristin L. Laidre, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen

*Corresponding author for this work

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The effects of climate change constitute a major concern in Arctic waters due to the rapid decline of sea ice, which may strongly alter the movements and habitat availability of Arctic marine mammals. We tracked 98 bowhead whales by satellite over an 11-year period (2001–2011) in Baffin Bay - West Greenland to investigate the environmental drivers (specifically sea surface temperature and sea ice) involved in bowhead whale’s movements. Movement patterns differed according to season, with aggregations of whales found at higher latitudes during spring and summer likely in response to sea ice retreat and increasing sea temperature (SST) facilitated by the warm West Greenland Current. In
contrast, the whales moved further south in response to sea temperature decrease during autumn and winter. Statistical models indicated that the whales targeted a narrow range of SSTs from −0.5 to 2 °C. Sea surface temperatures are predicted to undergo a marked increase in the Arctic, which could expose bowhead whales to both thermal stress and altered stratification and vertical transport of water masses. With such profound changes, bowhead whales may face extensive habitat loss. Our results highlight the need for closer investigation and monitoring in order to predict the extent of future distribution changes
Original languageEnglish
Article number9658
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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