Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


What do killer whales eat in the Arctic?

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are the top marine predator, wherever they are found, and seem to eat everything from schools of small fish to large baleen whales, over twice their own size.

The increase in hunting territories available to killer whales in the Arctic due to climate change and melting sea ice could seriously affect the marine ecosystem balance. New research published in BioMed Central's re-launched open access journal Aquatic Biosystems has combined scientific observations with Canadian Inuit traditional knowledge to determine killer whale behaviour and diet in the Arctic.

Orca have been studied extensively in the northeast Pacific ocean, where resident killer whales eat fish, but migrating whales eat marine mammals. Five separate ecotypes in the Antarctic have been identified, each preferring a different type of food, and similar patterns have been found in the Atlantic, tropical Pacific, and Indian oceans. However, little is known about Arctic killer whale prey preference or behaviour.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is increasingly being used to supplement scientific observations. Researchers from Manitoba visited 11 Canadian Nunavut Inuit communities and collated information from over 100 interviews with hunters and elders.

The Inuit reported that killer whales would 'eat whatever they can catch', mainly other marine mammals including seals (ringed, harp, bearded, and hooded) and whales (narwhal, beluga and bowhead). However there was no indication that Arctic killer whales ate fish. Only seven of the interviewees suggested that killer whales ate fish, but none of them had ever seen it themselves.

The type of reported prey varied between areas. Most incidences of killer whales eating bowhead whales occurred in Foxe Basin and narwhal predation was more frequent around Baffin Island. Inuit were also able to describe first-hand how killer whales hunted, including several reports of how killer whales co-operated to kill the much larger bowhead. During the hunt some whales were seen holding the bowhead's flippers or tail, others covering its blowhole, and others biting or ramming to cause internal damage. Occasionally dead bowheads, with bite marks and internal injuries but with very little eaten, are found by locals.

'Aarlirijuk', the fear of killer whales, influenced prey behaviour with smaller mammals seeking refuge in shallow waters or on shore and larger prey running away, diving deep, or attempting to hide among the ice. Even narwhal, which are capable of stabbing a killer whale with their tusks (although this is likely to result in the deaths of both animals), will run to shallow waters and wait until the whales give up.

Killer whales are seasonal visitors to the area and have recently started colonising Hudson Bay (possibly due to loss of summer sea ice with global warming). Local communities are reliant on the very species that the orcas like to eat. Dr Steven Ferguson from the University of Manitoba who led this research commented, "Utilising local knowledge through TEK will help scientists understand the effects of global warming and loss of sea ice on Arctic species and improve collaborative conservation efforts in conjunction with local communities."

Aquatic Biosystems, (previously Saline Systems), which re-launches today, publishes basic and applied research on aquatic organisms and environments, bridging across freshwater and saline systems from gene systems to ecosystems.

Notes to Editors

1. Prey items and predation behavior of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Nunavut, Canada based on Inuit hunter interviews
Steven H Ferguson, Jeff W Higdon and Kristin H Westdal
Aquatic Biosystems (in press)
Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at on the day of publication.

2. Aquatic Biosystems is an open access, peer-reviewed, online journal considering high quality manuscripts on all aspects of basic and applied research on aquatic organisms and environments.

3. BioMed Central ( is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

Dr. Hilary Glover | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>