Q&A

Is the open­ing of the North­west Pas­sage a prob­lem for wildlife?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - Stu­art Black­man

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AArc­tic sea-ice has now re­treated to the point that the North­west Pas­sage, which links the At­lantic and Pa­cific Oceans via Canada’s north­ern coast, and the North­ern Sea Route, which tra­verses Arc­tic Rus­sia, are both open to ship­ping for at least part of the year, with traf­fic ex­pected to in­crease. Lit­tle is known about the bi­ol­ogy of Arc­tic ma­rine mam­mals in gen­eral, so the im­pacts are dif­fi­cult to judge, but a sur­vey pub­lished in 2018 iden­ti­fied nar­whals and wal­ruses as par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to dis­tur­bance from boat col­li­sions, noise and de­vel­op­ments in in­fra­struc­ture, es­pe­cially at bot­tle­necks such as the Ber­ing Strait, through which both ship­ping and mi­gra­tory an­i­mals must pass.

The Arc­tic is pre­dicted to be sig­nif­i­cantly more nav­i­ga­ble by 2050. Wal­ruses, nar­whals and bow­head and bel­uga whales are likely to be most af­fected.

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