Global warming? Blue whales crushed to death by heavy Arctic sea ice

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Climate scientists may worry that global warming is melting the Arctic, but tell that to the blue whales that were crushed to death by heavy North Pole ice.

Global News reports that several endangered blue whales were found dead in ice pack off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada “probably crushed to death by ice.” One researcher with Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) “spotted nine dead whales while flying over the ice, about 40 nautical miles west of Cape Anguille.”

The blue whales were about “the length of two school buses”, or about 66 feet long, according to the DFO. Blue whale deaths along the Newfoundland coast aren’t all that rare, says the DFO, as there have been more than 50 recorded entrapments since the 1800s.

“But the blue whale entrapment events have all happened in this part of the southwest coast of Newfoundland,” the DFO’s Dr. Jack Lawson told Global News. “We’ve taken to calling it the whale trap.”

“Because of the geography of the area, he said, strong easterly winds can push ice from the Strait of Belle Isle out away from shore and into the open water,” Global News says. “That opens up a channel whales can swim into to feed. Blue whales are known to feed in the area around this time of year, feasting on the first spring bloom of shrimp.”

Lawson said that if a westerly wind comes along “it’ll actually move the ice close into the shore and crush them, which is what we think happened to these nine whales.”

The whale deaths are a huge blow to the northwest Atlantic blue whale population — of which there are only about 250, so these deaths make up about 4 percent of the population. This year has been particularly hard for them since the sea ice has been much heavier.

“We’ve had ferries unable to get across to Newfoundland. We’ve had ice breakers having a real tough time moving through this stuff. It’s under a lot of pressure and it’s thicker than it has been in the last few years,” Lawson said. “So, it’s just too much for them.”

Arctic sea ice off the coast of Newfoundland was above-average this March, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. But the extent of Arctic sea ice as a whole in March averaged 5.7 million square miles, 282,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average.

(H/T Ice Age Now)

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