Climate Change May Draw Gray Whale Back to Atlantic

The effects of global warming are proving so severe that the gray whale, famous for its annual migrations along the Pacific Coast, could find its way back to the Atlantic Ocean, according to a new study co-authored by scientists at the Graduate Center.

The study, "Climate Impacts on Transocean Dispersal and Habitat in Gray Whales from the Pleistocene to 2100,” published in Molecular Ecology, uses ancient DNA sequences to show that gray whales migrated between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans during warmer periods of the late Pleistocene and Holocene ages, when the Bering Strait was open and sea ice was light. Climate change is now causing Arctic sea ice to melt; as a result, whales may move to the Atlantic again.

Climate Change May Draw Gray Whale Back to Atlantic ; photo credit: David Weller, NOAATwo recent sightings of gray whales in the Atlantic suggest this movement may already be starting, the study notes. The research was conducted with scientists from Potsdam University, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and partner institutions.

“As Arctic sea ice melts, our study suggests gray whales are going to become even more important symbols of the changing oceans,” said Elizabeth Alter (GC/York, Biology), lead author of the study. “Today, gray whales are found only in the Pacific. But our research indicates that they may move back into the Atlantic, where they could have transformative impacts on existing ecosystems.”

Read the press release.

Submitted on: MAR 10, 2015

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