Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

What do killer whales eat in the Arctic?

Date:
January 29, 2012
Source:
BioMed Central
Summary:
Killer whales are the top marine predator. The increase in hunting territories available to killer whales in the Arctic due to climate change and melting sea ice could seriously affect the marine ecosystem balance. New research has combined scientific observations with Canadian Inuit traditional knowledge to determine killer whale behavior and diet in the Arctic.

Killer whales in the Arctic.
Credit: Image courtesy of BioMed Central

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are the top marine predator, wherever they are found, and seem to eat everything from schools of small fish to large baleen whales, over twice their own size. The increase in hunting territories available to killer whales in the Arctic due to climate change and melting sea ice could seriously affect the marine ecosystem balance. New research published in BioMed Central's re-launched open access journal Aquatic Biosystems has combined scientific observations with Canadian Inuit traditional knowledge to determine killer whale behaviour and diet in the Arctic.

Related Articles


Orca have been studied extensively in the northeast Pacific ocean, where resident killer whales eat fish, but migrating whales eat marine mammals. Five separate ecotypes in the Antarctic have been identified, each preferring a different type of food, and similar patterns have been found in the Atlantic, tropical Pacific, and Indian oceans. However, little is known about Arctic killer whale prey preference or behaviour.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is increasingly being used to supplement scientific observations. Researchers from Manitoba visited 11 Canadian Nunavut Inuit communities and collated information from over 100 interviews with hunters and elders.

The Inuit reported that killer whales would 'eat whatever they can catch', mainly other marine mammals including seals (ringed, harp, bearded, and hooded) and whales (narwhal, beluga and bowhead). However there was no indication that Arctic killer whales ate fish. Only seven of the interviewees suggested that killer whales ate fish, but none of them had ever seen it themselves.

The type of reported prey varied between areas. Most incidents of killer whales eating bowhead whales occurred in Foxe Basin and narwhal predation was more frequent around Baffin Island. Inuit were also able to describe first-hand how killer whales hunted, including several reports of how killer whales co-operated to kill the much larger bowhead. During the hunt some whales were seen holding the bowhead's flippers or tail, others covering its blowhole, and others biting or ramming to cause internal damage. Occasionally dead bowheads, with bite marks and internal injuries but with very little eaten, are found by locals.

'Aarlirijuk', the fear of killer whales, influenced prey behaviour with smaller mammals seeking refuge in shallow waters or on shore and larger prey running away, diving deep, or attempting to hide among the ice. Even narwhal, which are capable of stabbing a killer whale with their tusks (although this is likely to result in the deaths of both animals), will run to shallow waters and wait until the whales give up.

Killer whales are seasonal visitors to the area and have recently started colonising Hudson Bay (possibly due to loss of summer sea ice with global warming). Local communities are reliant on the very species that the orcas like to eat. Dr Steven Ferguson from the University of Manitoba who led this research commented, "Utilising local knowledge through TEK will help scientists understand the effects of global warming and loss of sea ice on Arctic species and improve collaborative conservation efforts in conjunction with local communities."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BioMed Central. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Steven H Ferguson, Jeff W Higdon and Kristin H Westdal, Aquatic Biosystems. Prey items and predation behavior of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Nunavut, Canada based on Inuit hunter interviews. Aquatic Biosystems, 2012 (in press)

Cite This Page:

BioMed Central. "What do killer whales eat in the Arctic?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 January 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120129232818.htm>.
BioMed Central. (2012, January 29). What do killer whales eat in the Arctic?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120129232818.htm
BioMed Central. "What do killer whales eat in the Arctic?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120129232818.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins