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What would you do if you knew that your home was at risk of melting away? This is the problem that Antarctic Minke whales face due to Earth’s changing climate.
Minke whales, which grow to roughly 30 feet (10 m), are the smallest of the great whale species, which include blue, humpback, and sperm whales. Increasing temperatures have the potential to jeopardize the survival of Antarctic Minke whales through the melting of ice, an important component of the Antarctic ecosystem. Less ice means less food for the minke, which feed primarily on the millions of krill that share the icy Antarctic waters. Krill consume microscopic algae found on the underside of sea ice; a warming atmosphere means that the total surface area of sea ice will likely shrink, ultimately limiting the food supply of both krill and the Minke whale.
Studies of Antarctic ecosystems show that Minke whale numbers are declining, most likely due to habitat loss and shortage of food supply due to a warming climate. Luckily, abundance estimates suggest the Minke whale population is not endangered. Though Minke whales are protected by the International Whaling Commission moratorium, which prohibits the harvest of Minke and other whales, some countries still hunt them under the guise of scientific, subsistence, or cultural whaling.
To learn more about Minke whales, check out these links:
This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links, please go to ocean.tamu.edu and click On the Ocean.
Script Authors: Kendall Polk & Miranda Hooper
Contributing Professor: Dr. Lisa Campbell
Editor: James M. Fiorendino