Bowhead Whale Carcasses On Nunavut Shores Leave Killer Whales As Prime Suspect.

in OCD2 months ago (edited)

This is one of the four bowhead whales found beached. The bowhead whales were spaced out along the beach, said Rene Kukkuvak, who took this photo. (Photo by Rene Kukkuvak)

Kugaaruk (Inuktitut syllabics: ᑰᒑᕐᔪᒃ English: "little stream") (also called Arviligjuaq, meaning "the great bowhead whale habitat"), is a settlement high in the chilly arctic passages of Nunavut with a population just shy of 1,000 inhabitants. In some ways, Kugaaruk is a product of the Cold war, as it was a Distant Early Warning system that was built around 1955 that got the normally nomadic Inuit to settle down in the nearby area. A little more than a decade later and an airport was built, followed quickly with prefabricated houses for the people living in the area. With a population makeup of approximately 97% Inuit, hunting is still one of the main ways that a lot of families get food. Contrary to wikipedia saying that traditional food is supplemental. As such, the Inuit take special note of destruction and waste in their environment. So when a group of hunters came across 4 dead Bowhead Whales 60 kilometres north of Kugaaruk, they immediately reported the news to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

With the help of DFO Scientist and killer whale researcher, Steve Ferguson, guesses could be made as to the cause of death for these 4 massive creatures. Ferguson received photos taken by Rene Kukkuvak and made a hypothesis based off gouge marks and an apparent torn tongue. Some posters on Facebook speculated that a vessel could have struck the bowhead whales. Ferguson was unconvinced, though as the injuries to one of the bowhead whales was more consistent with the way killer whales hunt. A gruesome affair, where one killer whale pulls the lip of the bowhead whale down so that the other killer whales can attack the fatty tongue of the poor bowhead.

This is one of four dead bowhead whales found beached about 60 kilometres north of Kugaaruk by a group of hunters. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is investigating what caused the deaths. (Photo by Rene Kukkuvak)

There is also a hypothesis that the receding sea ice from global warming will be playing a dramatic role in the predation of larger sea mammals. More alarmingly, there's a statistical link that the loss of sea ice is having negative effects on the bowhead population even without predation. Something known as Nonconsumptive effects. [1] Basically, with more open water during the summers, bowhead whales are exposed to a greater predator threat level, leaving them with a higher stress load during the season which may have negative impacts on health. It's not just the rising sea levels that will mess up our ecosystem. Global warming is going to cost us many species.

Bowhead whales are known by Inuit hunters to attempt to flee from Killer Whales by making a break for sea ice cover or shallow waters near the shore. A behavior that even has a name in Inuktitut. It is known as aarlirijuk which translates to "fear of killer whales." And this may be a suspect in the deaths of these whales. With no sea ice to make a break for, the bowheads had to instead try for the shallower waters of the cove.

Steve Ferguson added that the DFO will look into working with the hunters and trappers organization within Kugaaruk so that they can learn more about the beached bowhead whales and will possibly set up cameras over the winter to see what scavengers are attracted to the carcasses.

Only a few days after the bowhead whale carcasses were discovered so was its first scavenger, a large polar bear. Some hunters went out to collect samples from one of the whales and were met with this big white bugger.

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