Wednesday, June 13, 2012

PCCS Contact:
Dr. Cynthia Tynan
+1-508-487-3623 x 113
[email protected]

On June 10, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies received a report of a beluga whale in Cape Cod Bay, observed off Long Point Light, Provincetown. Subsequently, the beluga has also been sighted in the vicinity of the Cape Cod Canal. The beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), also known as the white whale, is an Arctic and sub-Arctic species, adapted to Arctic conditions and typically associated with the ice edge, where it can dive under the ice in search of prey. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is the typical southern range for the species and the occurrence of a beluga in Cape Cod Bay is a rare event. During 2004, a young beluga (named ‘Poco’ for the town of Pocologan, New Brunswick, where it was first reported) was observed off Boston and elsewhere along the coast of New England. It is possible that the beluga recently sighted in Cape Cod Bay may also be reported in coming months along the coast of New England.

Dr. Cynthia Tynan, a scientist at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, is leading research efforts at the center to examine the impacts of climate change on marine mammals. She reports that “the sightings of beluga whales this far south, in 2004 and 2012, have both occurred during years of below average sea ice extent in the Arctic. Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, show that May ice extent was below average this year, and that the record low sea ice extent for May occurred in 2004. These are both years in which belugas have been observed as far south as Massachusetts. Below average Arctic sea ice extent, combined with the anomalously warm winter and spring, suggest that impacts of climate change play a role in the unusual southern sightings of belugas. A longer-term trend of loss of Arctic sea ice extent is occurring; for May, 1979-2012, Arctic sea ice extent has declined at a rate of 2.3% per decade (credit National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder). Unusual movement patterns of Arctic and sub-Arctic species may be one of the consequences of global warming.”

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The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 and dedicated to preserving coastal and marine ecosystems and providing educational activities that promote the responsible stewardship of our oceans.

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