Genetic profiling links changing sea-ice to shifting beluga whale migration patterns

There is increasing concern over how Arctic fauna will adapt to climate related changes in sea-ice. We used long-term sighting and genetic data on beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in conjunction with multi-decadal patterns of sea-ice in the Pacific Arctic to investigate the influence of sea-ice on spring migration and summer residency patterns. Substantial variations in sea-ice conditions were detected across seasons, years and sub-regions, revealing ice–ocean dynamics more complex than Arctic-wide trends suggest. This variation contrasted with a highly consistent pattern of migration and residency by several populations, indicating that belugas can accommodate widely varying sea-ice conditions to perpetuate philopatry to coastal migration destinations.

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