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Killer Whales in the Canadian Arctic – A New Force to Contend With
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Killer Whales in the Canadian Arctic – A New Force to Contend With

[caption id="attachment_33210" align="alignleft" width="150"]becka-tulips Guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy[/caption] This post was written by guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy. Known as “aarluk” in Inuktitut, the Killer Whale (Orcinus Orca) is featured as Nature Canada's calendar photo for March 2018.

About the Killer Whale

One of the world’s largest animals, the Orca belongs to the Dolphin family (Delphinidae). Males can reach ten metres in length and 22,000 kilograms in weight. Females are smaller, but still considerable, at 8.5 metres long and 7,500 kilograms. Highly intelligent and distinctive for its black and white colouration, these magnificent creatures are also deadly. Poised at the top of the oceanic food chain, they are carnivores whose diet is often geographic and population specific. The Killer Whale’s menu could be fish heavy—such as salmon, herring, and tuna—or comprise larger marine life, such as seals, sea lions, penguins, sharks, and other whales and porpoises. Extremely social, Orcas live (and hunt) in matriarchal family pods typically comprising five to fifty whales and use echolocation to communicate. [caption id="attachment_35651" align="alignright" width="384"] A Killer Whale surfaces in the Strait of Georgia. Image courtesy of Gary Sutton.[/caption] Killer Whales are distributed throughout the world, from the polar ice caps to the tropics near the Equator. In Canadian waters, there are noted populations in the northern Pacific along British Columbia, and, though less commonly, in the Atlantic and Arctic regions. In recent years, however, this has begun to change, as sea ice both recedes and occurs for shorter times each year.

Heading North and Staying There

One consequence of increasing melting and retreating ice and the growing unpredictability of ice formation schedules is the change in roaming patterns of Killer Whales, who now venture into far northern waters where they previously did not. Killer Whales typically avoid ice because of their high dorsal fins. With the loss of year-round sea ice in the Arctic, however, these cetaceans, once largely absent from the region, are now both spending more time there and going to areas that were formerly inaccessible due to permanent or seasonal ice cover. For example, Killer Whale sightings, once rare in Hudson Bay, have been reported not only during summer months but in winter as well. Up north, the whales can miscalculate when the water will freeze and become trapped in ice, like what happened near the small northern Quebec village of Inukjuak in January 2013. A pod of a dozen Orcas became stuck, stranded in an opening of water just ten feet wide in northeastern Hudson Bay. Visibly stressed, the whales thrashed and took frantic turns surfacing for oxygen. Fortunately for them, the weather changed, causing the ice to break, and they were able to escape. The incident called attention to the shifting patterns of Arctic freezing due to climate change. [caption id="attachment_35657" align="alignleft" width="300"] A pod of narwhals in northern Canada, August 2005. Image courtesy of Kristin Laidre.[/caption]

The Orca Effect on the Arctic Ecosystem

Killer Whales in the Arctic are also disrupting the region’s fragile existing ecosystem. The disturbance of Narwhals is one such documented effect. Narwhals, nicknamed “sea unicorns” for the prominent tusks seen on males, are shy, wary whales who have been difficult to study due to the remoteness of their chosen habitats—two of three recognized populations of Narwhals live in Canadian Arctic waters, with the third occurring in eastern Greenland. A 2017 study demonstrated that the presence of Killer Whales drastically alters the behavior and distribution of Narwhals. Narwhals will move to and remain closer to the shore when Killer Whales are nearby, rightfully fearful and frazzled by the predator in the midst. Killer Whales, who hunt in packs, will try to push Narwhals into deeper waters and then encircle their panicked prey. By moving to shallower waters to flee Killer Whales, Narwhals become farther from the abundant stocks of fish that they eat. Additionally, staying closer to shore makes them more vulnerable to hunters. With Narwhals an important food source for the Inuit, the encroachment of Killer Whales into the Arctic also increases the competition for limited food sources. In addition to the Narwhal, Killer Whales in the Arctic are also preying on Beluga Whales and Bowhead Whales. With receding sea ice and continuing climate change, Killer Whales are poised to become a major Arctic predator to contend with. Today scientists continue to monitor Killer Whales and their impact on the Arctic marine environment. One tool that has proven particularly useful is questioning the local Inuit who directly observe these whales’ behaviors and interactions in the Arctic every day. Known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), scientists combine these firsthand observations and cultural knowledge accrued over generations with their research to help form a clearer picture of Orcas in the Arctic. Acknowledgments: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, NOAA Fisheries, RCI, Science Daily
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Climate change is changing you
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Climate change is changing you

This blog was written by Luca Bonaccorsi and published by our partners at Birdlife International the week of November 11, 2016. This piece was further edited by Sam Nurse. A new study reveals ongoing alterations in shape, size, sex and distribution of animals and plants are due to man-made warming.  Paolo lives in an area that is getting hotter. He must have noticed that his children are smaller than they should be. And not just in stature – their arms and legs are proportionately smaller than you'd expect.  Mohamed lives in an area increasingly susceptible to drought. He has noticed that his skin is growing thicker and lucid and waterproof, increasing substantially his water retention. In Lola’s village there used to be about one man for every woman. Now, men are hard to find. [caption id="attachment_26344" align="alignright" width="247"] Red Knots in flight[/caption] It’s what you would actually see if we could firstly, fast forward time and secondly, limit the level of insulation of the human species from changes in the environment due to progress and technology. How do we know for sure? Because when it comes to animal and plants, things are no different. The scary processes described above are in fact documented trends affecting our fauna and flora. These are the new findings revealed by a study led by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, BirdLife International and other institutions, published this week in the prestigious journal Science. The study contains a vast number of unsettling data. Some salamanders have shrunk in size by some 8% over the past 50 years (equivalent to the average human becoming 15 centimetres shorter). Over the same period Red Knots have had smaller offspring with shorter bills (not as good for foraging hence affecting negatively their growth prospects). The opposite is happening to some mammals in colder area where warmer weather means more food: American Martens and Yellow-bellied Marmots are getting bigger. Likewise, melanism (such as that witnessed in black panthers or crows) is decreasing as it does not favour thermoregulation. And species whose sex determination is affected by temperatures are witnessing changes in the sex ratio of their population: some species of lizards are creating increasingly more males, some turtle species more females. [caption id="attachment_16894" align="alignleft" width="203"]photo of young snapping turtle. Snapping turtle hatchling. Photography by Sarah Kirkpatrick-Wahl[/caption] “We now have evidence that, with only a ~1 degree Celsius of warming globally, major impacts are already being felt in natural systems” says study lead author Brett Scheffers. Researchers discovered that more than 80 percent of ecological processes that form the foundation for healthy marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems already show signs of responses to climate change. Bird science is proving, once more, very important in understanding the consequences of global warming. According to Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International:

“Some of the best data on climate change impacts come from birds. For example, bird population trends in North America and Europe show a clear signal of climate change since the 1980s. While some species have benefited, many more have undergone declines.”  
Until now, the narratives around climate change had failed to convey how pervasive the impacts could be. Drought, wildfires, rising sea levels and extreme weather are all phenomena portrayed with accuracy in the climate action camp. This new publication adds a new, hugely unsettling, dimension to the concept of climate change”. This change does not simply exist 'outside' of us in the form of weather phenomena. Instead, it is inside all of us, changing the very alphabet of our identity: our genetic code. To read the full article from BirdLife International, click here.
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Giving Our Planet One Day Off a Year
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Giving Our Planet One Day Off a Year

Mark your calendars! Did you know September 21st is Zero Emissions Days? This event aims towards giving our planet a break and reducing the use of fossil fuels in our everyday lives. What do this day entail? Here are some fun facts and ways to participate:

  1. This day was specifically chosen because the length of days and nights are equal!
  2. It is the same day as International Day of Peace and World Gratitude Day
  3. The Goal: Have minimal use of gas, oil, coal, or electricity generated by fossil fuels
  4. One way to do this is to eat food that does not require the use of energy to make, or prepare your food a day early
Join the fun and make a difference in the environment! Click here for Zero Emissions Day website. For more facts on this day, click here.

Climate change pushing birds to extinction: report
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Climate change pushing birds to extinction: report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 9, 2014 (OTTAWA, ON) — Climate change seriously threatens bird species across Canada and the United States according to a new groundbreaking report released today by Nature Canada’s partner organization, the Audubon Society.  The report concludes that half of all birds studied could see their populations drop dramatically on account of climate change. According to the report, habitat disruption brought on by climate change is one of the main factors pushing bird populations into areas to which they are not adapted. The report finds that climate change is happening so fast that many species simply cannot keep up. It concludes that this is likely to lead to the decline of bird populations across North America and, in some cases, outright extinction. “Canada needs to prepare itself for an influx of climate refugee species displaced by warmer temperatures, habitat loss, drought or extreme weather,” said Stephen Hazell, Nature Canada’s Interim Executive Director. “Iconic species like the Chestnut-collared Longspur and the Ivory Gull need our support right now to ensure that they have the habitat they need to survive next year but also in coming years due to worsening climate change.” Audubon’s report echoes the findings of the State of Canada’s Birds report, produced in partnership with Nature Canada, showing that many bird species are declining dramatically in Canada. For 75 years, Nature Canada has worked to protect habitat for species at risk in Canada and internationally. “All the evidence suggests that habitat loss due to climate change is going to hit hard,” said Ted Cheskey, Senior Bird Conservation Manager at Nature Canada. “To help mitigate the impact of climate change, Nature Canada and our provincial affiliates are working with local field naturalist groups and First Nations communities to steward and conserve the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Canada identified as globally significant.”

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[one_third][separator headline="h2" title="Media Contacts:"] Paul Jorgenson Senior Communications Manager 613-562-3447 ext 248 pjorgenson@naturecanada.ca Monica Tanaka Communications Coordinator 613-562-3447 ext 241 mtanaka@naturecanada.ca [/one_third] [one_third][separator headline="h2" title="About Nature Canada:"] Nature Canada is the oldest national nature conservation charity in Canada. Over the past 75 years, we’ve helped protect over 63 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and the countless species that depend on this habitat. Today, we represent a network of over 45,000 members & supporters and more than 350 nature organizations in every province across Canada. Nature Canada is a Canadian co-partner in BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organizations that conserve birds, habitat and global biodiversity. The Audubon Society is the American partner in BirdLife International. Read the full report here. [/one_third] [one_third_last][separator headline="h2" title="Multimedia resources:"]
[caption id="attachment_16133" align="aligncenter" width="125"]image of Ivory Gull Click for full-size image of Ivory Gull for media use[/caption] [caption id="attachment_16134" align="aligncenter" width="125"]image of Chestnut-collared Longspur Click for full-size image of Chestnut-collared Longspur for media use[/caption]
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World’s oceans under unprecedented threat from global warming
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World’s oceans under unprecedented threat from global warming

According to a recently released study by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), the world's oceans are facing a tremendous triple threat from global warming, falling oxygen levels and increased acidifcation. These combined threats are much greater than scientists previously thought and have the potential to increase the rate of the extinction of ocean-dwelling mammals and numerous commercially important fish stocks. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of which Nature Canada is a member, released this statement in response to the story, which broke on Reuters. "The scale and rate of the present day carbon perturbation, and resulting ocean acidification, is unprecedented in Earth's known history," stated the IUCN, which participated in the publishing of the report.

Canadians more willing than Americans to pay more for renewable energy
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Canadians more willing than Americans to pay more for renewable energy

wind turbines north cape pei4A survey by the Public Policy Forum and Sustainable Prosperity found that 73% of Canadians would be willing to pay up to $50 more every year for renewable energy. Their American counterparts were less willing to do the same – only 55% agreed to a $50 hike in yearly energy costs.A recent poll shows that Canadians are more willing than Americans to pay more for renewable energy – they’re also more likely to accept evidence of climate change. “The results are encouraging and in line with much of the research that we have recently published,” said Sustainable Prosperity’s Alex Wood in a statement. “The numbers are clear, Canadians want smart climate change policy, and the evidence here is that they believe carbon pricing to be a central element of smart climate change policy.” This translated into support for cap and trade and carbon tax policies by the majority of Canadians surveyed. Not surprisingly, 40% of Canadians agreed that federal and provincial governments should take action against climate change. It’s notable that Canadians’ support for smart climate change policies – even at the cost of an extra $50 per month – stands in contrast to Americans’ opinions. Why the difference? There are likely many factors involved in shaping public opinion on climate change policy, but a fundamental factor is how strongly people believe in the phenomenon of climate change. According to the poll, Canadians are more likely than Americans to believe in climate change: 80% of Canadians believe there is strong evidence to support climate change, compared with only 55% of Americans. One reason for this gap could be the degree to which Climategate affected Americans’ views on climate change compared to Canadians, which is alluded to in the survey’s comments section. Despite the 2009 email scandal involving prominent climate change scientists, Canadians showed strong support for the idea that climate change is happening – 90% believe it’s a serious problem. The survey attracted a lot of media attention for highlighting the difference between Canadian and American views on climate change, but perhaps the greatest take-away message was that Canadians want to see their government enact environment-friendly energy policies.

The Cancún Agreement
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The Cancún Agreement

Last week saw the conclusion of the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancún, Mexico. The resulting Cancún Agreement is not legally binding, but it is more than most expected. The signatories (all negotiating parties except Bolivia, who considers the agreement ecocide) agreed to keep talking; promised to keep global temperature rise below 2 °C (without saying how); and pledged to establish a Green Climate Fund (with the World Bank as the trustee) where developed countries are expected to contribute $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries, as well as approximately $30 billion for 2010-2012 as a fast-start finance mechanism.
Two other positive advances in the climate negotiations are: 1) an agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), in which developing countries are encouraged to, and compensated for, protecting their forests.; and 2) the establishment of the Cancún Adaptation Framework, with the ‘objective of enhancing action on adaptation’.
The unresolved question is whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which contains binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries. The debate is postponed to COP17 to be held in Durban, South Africa in 2011, or in 2012, the year the Protocol expires. Unlike many countries that were willing to compromise, Canada, Japan and Russia strongly oppossed an extension of Kyoto. Canada has argued only an agreement including all countries would be effective and fair–the US has not ratified the Protocol, and India and China are exempted from cutting their emissions until 2012. Some Canadians, however, would prefer to be leaders in cutting emissions.
For many, the Cancún Agreement has revitalized the UN body regulating climate change, especially after the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. Expectations were extremely low, so most have applauded the outcomes. Yet the most urgent outcome-a plan to reduce emissions and keep the global temperature rise below catastrophic levels-will have to wait until South Africa.

Report says it’s time to end subsidies to fossil fuel companies
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Report says it’s time to end subsidies to fossil fuel companies

An oil pipeline stretches across the landscape
Last week the Climate Action Network released a report on the billions of dollars in tax breaks that the Government of Canada hands out to oil, coal and gas companies each year -- and the problems this poses for attempts to address our changing climate and transition to a greener economy. From the report, Fuelling the Problem:
By subsidizing fossil fuel producing companies the government is encouraging faster production and facilitating the rapid expansion of large fossil fuel projects such as the Alberta tar sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution.
Globally, artificially low costs of fossil fuels have been shown to encourage wasteful consumption, distort energy markets, and allow for increased greenhouse gas pollution, thereby fueling the climate crisis. Subsidizing oil extraction also makes investments in oil more attractive compared to lower carbon, lower risk alternatives, thereby increasing the lock‐in of economies into fossil fuels. In a time of fiscal constraint, the federal government could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue by ending unfair tax breaks to some of the richest companies in the world. Eliminating handouts to oil and gas corporations operating in Canada would also help the country take a step towards a cleaner energy economy. So why no action? Using leaked government memos, the report outlines a months-long strategy to downplay its responsibility to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, something all G20 countries agreed to do in 2009. According to the report, the Green Budget Coalition (in which Nature Canada is a member) has identified over $900 million in tax breaks to the fossil fuels industry that could be eliminated in the March 2011 federal budget.

Climate Change Bill Continues to Collect Dust
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Climate Change Bill Continues to Collect Dust

As reported by 350.org, on Sunday, 10/10/10, citizens in 188 countries engaged in more than 7,000 organized “work parties” to cut carbon and asked their politicians a simple question, "We're getting to work, what about you?" Well on Friday September 8, Stephen Harper and his Conservative government answered them by instructing his appointed senators to delay the country’s only federal climate bill and ordering them not to speak on the subject, even though senators had five solid months to review the legislation, and to prevent the legislation from moving forward. The legislation in question is Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, which was passed in the House of Commons last May by elected MPs and subsequently stalled in the Senate during the summer months. Harper’s instructions came after the prescribed five months to consider the bill. Richard Neufeld, an oil and gas sector veteran is responsible for leading the debate, however the senator has refused to acknowledged the bill, and according to Senate rules, only government can conclude debate on a bill or schedule votes. This scenario is all too familiar, as a similar bill touching on clean energy was blocked in the US last July by the Senate and to this day there has been no vote and no change. Support Bill C-311 by writing to your local MP and letting them know that you feel strongly about this issue.

Study Shows Toxins Affect Polar Bears, Gulls, other Arctic Wildlife
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Study Shows Toxins Affect Polar Bears, Gulls, other Arctic Wildlife

A recently published report uses new data on the effects of persistent organohalogen contaminants (OHCs) on Arctic wildlife to evaluate health risks of a range of species, including polar bears, killer whales and black-backed gulls. The study, created for the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, looked at OHC contamination in relation to other stressors like disease, predation, climate change, food scarcity, and body condition, to see how contaminants affect species at a population level. For the Arctic's top predator, the research findings:

have highlighted that OHCs adversely affect polar bear liver and kidney functions, immune response and endocrine system, which helps regulate growth, cognitive abilities, and body temperature. These impairments may alter the ability for bears to acclimatize and adapt to extreme Arctic environments.
When these effects are considered in combination with climate change, natural periods of fasting, cub survival rate, and female reproductive impairment, polar bear populations in East Greenland and Svalbard may be at higher risk of chronic population-level stress. Studies of other species found similar trends. The effects of certain OHCs on great black-backed gulls from northern Norway, for example, appeared to have been aggravated when the birds were exposed to parasites, climate change, and food scarcity, among other things. More details from this study are summarized in Environment Canada's quarterly newsletter, Wildlife and Landscape Science News, which, incidentally, I always find an interesting read.

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