New arrivals in Kotzebue Sound preying on belugas

Kotzebue Sound is changing and beluga hunters are facing new competition. Researcher Manuel Castellote at the Alaska Fisheries Center placed underwater microphones in the Sound. Instead of belugas he found the source of the problem — killer whales.

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Orcas. Photo: Christopher Michel via Flickr Creative Commons.
Orcas. Photo: Christopher Michel via Flickr Creative Commons.

“It turns out when we look at our data what we found was mainly killer whales. So that’s why the project quickly became a killer whale project.”

Things have gotten so bad in Kotzebue Sound that belugas there don’t sing out as much as they do elsewhere. Researchers suspect the belugas are afraid killer whales will find them and eat them…

“…because they know that if they are happy they will hear them and they might be predated. So they try to be silent.”

As in so many areas in the Arctic, changes are happening more quickly than further south. In Kotzebue Sound the seabirds that used to eat fish have declined while those eating plankton have increased.