A pair of killer whales jump out of the water
Killer whales, or orcas, are not the largest whales but they travel in pods and can hunt larger prey. New research shows that they spent more time in the Arctic Ocean in recent years.

Killer whales are intelligent, adaptive predators, often teaming up to take down larger whales as prey. Continuous reduction in sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is opening areas to increased killer whale dwelling and predation, potentially creating an ecological imbalance.

Underwater microphones placed off the western and northern coasts of Alaska show that killer whales have spent more time than previously recorded in the Arctic, following the decrease in summer sea ice. Brynn Kimber, a researcher from the Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Ecosystem Studiespresented the study, “Tracking killer whale movements in the Alaskan Arctic relative to a loss of sea ice,” Dec. 2 in Seattle at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

Killer whales will often travel to different areas to target varieties of prey. In the analysis of acoustic data recorded by four underwater microphones from 2012 to 2019, the Seattle-based team found that killer whales are spending longer in the Arctic Ocean in more recent years, despite risks of ice entrapment there. Their readings indicate this change is directly following the decrease in sea ice in the area.

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