Bowhead whale migration changes driven by declines in sea ice 

As the Arctic warms four times faster than the rest of the planet, visual, acoustic, and satellite tagging evidence suggests bowhead whales might be changing their migration patterns. We analyzed 11 years of recordings of bowhead whale calls and songs to explore relationship between migration timing and sea ice in the Chukchi and Bering Seas. Fall migration into the Bering Strait and spring migration into the southern Chukchi Sea was strongly tied to sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, while sea ice in the Bering Sea was responsible for how long whales were absent between the southward and northward migration. Since 2013, some whales are remaining in southern Chukchi Sea rather than moving into the northwestern Bering Sea for the winter. Changes to bowhead whale migration could increase the overlap with ships and impact Indigenous communities that rely on bowhead whales for nutritional, cultural, and spiritual subsistence.

Read recent publication in Movement Ecology.

Data and metadata used for this research can be downloaded from the Arctic Data Center.