As polar seas heat up, mammals will find less slow, stupid prey

A polar bear keeps close to her young in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, in a March 6, 2007 handout photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 January 2019

As polar seas heat up, mammals will find less slow, stupid prey

  • The scientists estimated that every one degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) increase in sea surface temperature will lead to a 12 percent decline in the abundance of marine mammals

OSLO: Global warming will make life harder for mammals and birds hunting in polar seas by perking up fish that were slow, stupid and easy to catch in icy waters, scientists said on Thursday.
Seals, whales, penguins and other warm-bodied creatures rule polar seas partly because their constant internal temperatures let them put on bursts of speed and stay more alert than cold-blooded prey, they wrote in the journal Science.
But rising temperatures in the Arctic Ocean and seas around Antarctica are slowly enlivening fish, from small capelin to large sharks, whose bodies and brains go slow in frigid waters.
“Overall, warm-bodied predators are favored where prey are slow, stupid, and cold,” the scientists, led by John Grady at Michigan State University, wrote in the study.
“Being faster than your prey or enemies ... is an important advantage for surviving and getting food,” Grady told Reuters in an email of the findings by scientists in the United States, Germany, Canada and England.
DEADLIER SHARKS “Faster sharks are deadlier sharks. The most vulnerable mammals and birds are those that feed on fast-moving fish and have to worry about shark predators: this includes many penguins, puffins and sea lions,” he wrote.
The wide diversity of marine mammals and seabirds in polar regions is a biological oddity, because species tend to be more varied nearer the equator. The warm-body advantage in frigid waters helps explain the paradox.
The scientists estimated that every one degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) increase in sea surface temperature will lead to a 12 percent decline in the abundance of marine mammals.
Almost 200 governments pledged in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit a rise in temperatures to “well below” two degrees C above pre-industrial times by phasing out fossil fuels. But governments are lagging behind and temperatures are expected to rise 3C (5.4F) or so by 2100, the UN estimates.
The polar power struggle between warm- and cold-blooded creatures is one aspect of warming that is also driving many species of fish and other marine life toward the poles or to the depths.
And scientists have found that thick layers of blubber, a sign of health for Arctic mammals, have thinned on harp seals and minke whales in recent years. That may signal that they are losing out to rival cod in catching smaller fish.
“Cod have invaded some of the areas where the harp seals and minke whales used to feed without competition,” Tore Haug, a scientist at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research, told Reuters. He was not involved in Thursday’s study.


At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

In this Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 image, Lizzie Chimiugak looks on at her home in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2020

At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

  • The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska: Lizzie Chimiugak has lived for 90 years in the windswept western wilds of Alaska, born to a nomadic family who lived in mud homes and followed where the good hunting and fishing led.
Her home now is an outpost on the Bering Sea, Toksook Bay, and on Tuesday she became the first person counted in the US Census, taken every 10 years to apportion representation in Congress and federal money.
“Elders that were before me, if they didn’t die too early, I wouldn’t have been the first person counted,” Lizzie Chimiugak said, speaking Yup’ik language of Yugtun, with family members serving as interpreters. “Right now, they’re considering me as an elder, and they’re asking me questions I’m trying my best to give answers to, or to talk about what it means to be an elder.”
The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867. The ground is still frozen, which allows easier access before the spring melt makes many areas inaccessible to travel and residents scatter to subsistence hunting and fishing grounds. The mail service is spotty in rural Alaska and the Internet connectivity unreliable, which makes door-to-door surveying important.
The rest of the nation, including more urban areas of Alaska, begin the census in mid-March.
On Tuesday, Steven Dillingham, director of the census bureau, conducted the first interview after riding on the back of a snowmobile from the airport to Chimiugak’s home.
“The 2020 Census has begun,” he told reporters after conducting the first interview with Chimiugak, a process that lasted about five minutes. “Toksook Bay isn’t the easiest place to get to, and the temperature is cold. And while people are in the village, we want to make sure everyone is counted.”
Dillingham was hours late getting to Toksook Bay because weather delayed his flight from the hub community of Bethel, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) away. Conditions didn’t improve, and he spent only about an hour in the community before being rushed back to the airport.
After the count, a celebration took place at Nelson Island School and included the Nelson Island High School Dancers, an Alaska Native drum and dance group. Later, the community took over the commons area of the high school with a potluck of Alaska Native foods, including seal, moose and goose soups, herring roe served with seal oil and baked salmon.
Robert Pitka, tribal administrator for Nunakauyak Traditional Council, hopes the takeaway message for the rest of the nation is of Yup’ik pride.
“We are Yup’ik people and that the world will see that we are very strong in our culture and our traditions and that our Yup’ik language is very strong,” he said.
For Chimiugak, she has concerns about climate change and what it might do to future generations of subsistence hunters and fishers in the community, and what it will do to the fish and animals. She talked about it with others at the celebration.
“She’s sad about the future,” he eldest son Paul said.
Chimiugak was born just after the start of the Great Depression in the middle of nowhere in western Alaska, her daughter Katie Schwartz of Springfield, Missouri, said. Lizzie was one of 10 siblings born to her parents, who lived a nomadic lifestyle and traveled with two or three other families that would migrate together, her son said.
Lizzie and her 101-year-old sister from Nightmute, Alaska, survive.
In 1947 Lizzie married George Chimiugak, and they eventually settled in Toksook Bay after the town was founded in 1964 by residents of nearby Nightmute. There are five surviving children.
He worked maintenance at the airport. She did janitorial work at the old medical clinic and babysat.
Like other wives, she cleaned fish, tanned hides and even rendered seal oil after her husband came home from fishing or hunting. Her husband died about 30 years ago.
She is also a woman of strong Catholic faith, and told her son that she saved his life by praying over him after he contracted polio.
For her own hobbies, she weaved baskets from grass and remains a member of the Alaska Native dance group that performed Tuesday. She dances in her wheelchair.
She taught children manners and responsibility and continued the oral tradition of telling them stories with a storyknife.
Chimiugak used a knife in the mud to illustrate her stories to schoolchildren. She drew figures for people or homes. At the end of the story, she’d use the knife to wipe away the pictures and start the next story with a clean slate of mud.
“She’s a great teacher, you know, giving us reminders of how we’re supposed to be, taking care of subsistence and taking care of our family and respecting our parents,” her granddaughter Alice Tulik said. “That’s how she would give us advice.”