Roy Moffitt: Walrus and Polar Bears on Ice, August 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018


Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 20, 2018


Current location/conditions:

Evening of August 20 – North west of Barrow Canyons, Beaufort Sea

Air temp 28F, sea depth 1914 m, surface sea water temp 31F (72.5N are furthest point north)


Walrus and Polar Bears on Ice

In the last couple of days we have seen two of the Arctic’s most notable mammals on the ice, the walrus and the polar bear.  Below is a picture that I took of a large group of walrus that floated near the ship on the evening of August 19th.

These walrus were just the beginning of an even larger group floating up on the ice.  Walrus like to rest on the ice in between feedings off the ocean floor.  Walrus will eat many items off the shallow sea floor, this location is about 60 meters deep.  Their favorite foods are bivalve mollusks, including clams.  The walrus will not break the clams’ shells but suck out the food with their powerful suction capabilities.  More terrifying is that the walrus will occasionally do the same to some sea birds and seals.  Walrus have relatively few teeth besides their tusks.  If they catch larger prey such as a bird or seal, they will suck out the good parts just like a clam.  Male walrus can grow up to be over 4,000 lbs.  Add these facts together and these cute animals become a little more frightening.

Walrus on Ice
Walrus resting on sea ice

Walrus are common in the northern Chukchi Sea this time of year and typically have been known to migrate south in the winter. In a science presentation held onboard our ship, marine mammal scientist, Catherine Berchok, shared acoustic data from her moorings that documented recordings of walrus in the northern Chukchi Sea in the winter. Previous surveys have not typically recorded a presence of walrus in this region as usually these mammals need a mix of ice and open water for feeding, though they can break through winter ice for breathing.  Scientists now have additional questions for further investigation. Why are these walrus here in the winter? Have the walrus changed to a seal diet?  These are questions that are still unanswered.


Counting Walrus


Walrus dot the seascape
Walrus dot the seascape
The bridge of USCGC Healy
The bridge of USCGC Healy

On the evening of August 17th, we came across a large group of walrus (see image above).  Scientists specializing in mammal and bird observation were estimating the amount of walrus we observed.  Each of the dark blotches on the ice in the fog were all groups of walrus.  The larger groups contained 50-80 walrus while the smaller ones were around 20.  Standing high up on the bridge with cameras and powerful binoculars mammal observers, Jessica Lindsay and Jennifer Stern, estimated the total number to be around 1200 walrus!


Finding Polar Bears


Polar Bear
A polar bear stands on sea ice

From high up on the ship’s bridge (shown in the above picture), mammal observers and bird observers armed with binoculars are always present in daylight hours when the ship is moving. Bird observer Charlie Wright has quite the trained eye for spotting birds and also polar bears.  A couple days ago he spotted a polar bear approximately 4-5 miles away.  While looking through binoculars, all I could see was a tuft of fur, and then only when I was told where to look.  To me it was like, finding a polar bear in a snowstorm.  Last night Charlie spotted another one. The polar bear pictured above was much closer, perhaps a mile away.  At first, we observed the bear curled up on the ice, but then it stood up and walked around.  The light was dim and the weather was foggy during my observation, but if you look closely at the picture you will see that the bear looks quite plump after a spring and summer of feeding.


Today’s Wildlife Sightings

Snow on Healy
Snow on the bow of the Healy

Normally I would focus on a bird, fish, or mammal in this section, but since I focused the entire blog on mammals I want to take this opportunity focus on snow sightings.  We are now actually in one of the drier places on earth. Even though it seems like it is always cloudy and foggy usually only small amounts of precipitation fall here.  Temperatures have been below freezing for a couple days and we have experienced some snow showers but they do not last for long.  Overnight it was enough to dust the Healy with snow as shown below.  Either way I cannot say I experienced snow in mid August before!


Now and Looking forward

We will be leaving the deep Arctic shortly and heading south through shallow seas towards our last study area.  Along the way the number of whales, walrus, and birds may increase along with the increased food supply from the shallow sea floor.

On a sad note that means we are leaving the ice and headed south.  So I leave the ice by sharing with you this picture.  Though it was dim light and a bit fuzzy I saw a walrus on its back soaking in the Arctic weather by its ice beach umbrella.

Walrus Ice Umbrella
Walrus relaxing on its back beneath an ice “umbrella”

Dana Clark: Alaska’s Rocky Seafloor, June 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Clark

Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 23 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Coast of Kodiak Island

Date: June 26, 2014

Weather Data: Latitude – 56° 45.40′ N, Longitude – 154° 9.99 W, Sky Condition – 7/8 clouds, Present Weather – clear, Visibility – 10 nautical miles, Wind – 3 knots, Temperature – 14° C

Science and Technology Log

Dana Clark on the fantail
Dana Clark on the fantail of the Fairweather

Each morning there is a meeting of the launch crew on the fantail, which is aft, which means the back deck of the boat. You need to wear your hard hat and your PFD which stands for Personal Flotation Device. It is really great that the life-jacket is embedded into the jacket. Wednesday I went out on a launch, a 28 foot boat, and attempted to collect hydrographic data. However, the weather did not cooperate. We were tossed around by winds of 30 knots, which is approximately 34.5 mph, and 5 foot swells and waves. I found out that swells are large scale rollers of water and waves are choppy. Swells have more amplitude, a lot of energy, are larger, and are driven by far off (can be thousands of nautical miles away) weather storms or very high or low pressure systems. Waves are surface wind driven, choppy, smaller, and have more pitch. You can have either one by itself or you can have both together, either going the same direction or cross-ways. Well, we had both swells and waves from different directions at the same time! The waves had whitecaps and the swells were just big! I couldn’t even get out my camera to take a picture because I was holding on to the rail in the cabin with both hands, trying not to fall or get in the way of the scientists as we pitched about. And, can you believe, no seasickness! We were called back to the ship after the current we measured registered at 5 to 5.5 knots, much too fast for us to put our CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) into the water. The professionals aboard the Fairweather put a premium on safety and knew it was time to call an inclement weather day and have the launches return. By the way, the picture at the left was taken on another day. How quickly the weather can change!

Mark Bradley NOAA Fairweather
Mark Bradley using multi-beam sonar 3D imaging to confirm uncharted rock in navigational waters

Today, it was wisely decided that I would be exposed to the science on the ship while the launches went out and the weather system finished passing through. I was able to learn from Mark Bradley who is a hydrographic survey technician. Some days he goes on the launches and uses the multi-beam echo sounder to map sections of the seafloor. Other times he works on the ship processing the data that has been collected and preparing the descriptive report. Today he was comparing old charts to the new survey soundings that a launch had previously recorded while they were picking up holidays during a low tide. Remember, holidays are where there are gaps in the data. While resurveying this holiday they saw a rock sticking out of the water so they came back later in the day during high tide and used the multi-beam sonar to get a depth measurement for the top of it. Mark then took this data and compared it to the old charts. The old charts didn’t even have this rock recorded! He used his 3D imaging and measured the rock at 83 meters wide and 30 meters tall. It was huge! At low tide, it stuck a meter out of the water. This rock was in navigational water and easily could have damaged or sunk a boat. Mark confirmed another nearby rock was 3 feet under the surface so if you were in a boat you wouldn’t see it. This second rock was a known rock; however, on the old chart it was at 42 feet below the surface, not 3 feet! So there is a great need to update our navigational charts since the old ones can be over 100 years old. Eventually, this chart he’s updating will be revised and published by NOAA Charting Division.

Kristin Golmon NOAA Fairweather
Kristin Golmon on the bridge of the Fairweather

Scientist of the Day

Today I would like you to meet Kristin Golmon, a Junior Officer for NOAA who is currently aboard the Fairweather. This Texan is a woman who is in charge! She is an ODD which stands for Officer of the Deck. Because the CO, the Commanding Officer cannot be on the bridge (the space that you command the ship from) all the time, an OOD directs the bridge when he is below, and is the direct representative of the CO. She drives the ship, does survey work, does administrative duties and currently she’s also working towards her coxswain qualification. Today she is in charge of the bridge, working on charts, communicating with the hydrographic survey launches, and recording the weather. Kristin has always been curious about how stuff works. In elementary school she invented a t-shirt folding machine out of cardboard. You would put a t-shirt on it and it would fold the shirt and you would pull the cardboard out! She always did well in math and science and had her parents, a geologist mom and a mathematician dad, as her role models. She attended Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and earned a BS in Engineering Science, a minor in Mathematics and another minor in Environmental Studies. She was a senior in college when she heard about NOAA Corps and liked their science mission. She also liked the idea of serving her country in a uniformed service.

Casey Marwine polar bear
Polar bear mom and her two cubs, Artic Ocean, 2012.
Photo courtesy of Casey Marwine.

Being a woman in charge has its challenges when working in a male dominated field but she has the respect of her peers and the CO. Currently, the head of NOAA is Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, a geologist and an astronaut who was the first American woman to walk in space. When asked what she liked best about her job, Kristin said that it’s a pretty cool experience being in charge of a ship, especially when going through narrow passages that take a lot of planning like the Inside Passage in Alaska. She also loved seeing polar bears, a mom and two cubs, while doing the Arctic Reconnaissance Survey!

Personal Log

Dana Clark Fairweather room
Dana Clark working in her stateroom on the Fairweather

Check out where I live on the ship.  This is my room, or as we call it aboard ship, my stateroom. Notice the hard hat and survival suit above the bed and the life jacket above the television! I also have a desk that folds up when I don’t need it.  It was a treat to have my own room. The shower and the head (what they call the bathroom) is across from my room. Also on the ceiling of the hallway outside my bedroom is an escape hatch! Then in the floor above is another hatch. This way I can safely get up to the upper decks if my hallway gets blocked or flooded.

Dana Clark Escape Hatch
Escape hatch in the hallway ceiling on the Fairweather


Question (or Answers): Today’s question will actually be answers! And speaking of polar bears, remember my question from my first blog when I asked you the question of what were the odds that I would see a polar bear? Well, the answer is none. The polar bears are much farther north and are found in the Artic region of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. Unfortunately, I will not be seeing any polar bears. My poll last blog asked you to identify a picture as plant or animal. Many of you voted and it was a pretty split vote between the two! The picture is of bull kelp, a plant, and its scientific name is nereocystis. It can grow huge and I have seen some big ones here in Alaskan waters.

I will leave you with this shot of beautiful Kodiak, Alaska that I took from the ship. This is where we are anchored this week.

Kodiak, Alaska
Kodiak, Alaska, June 2014

Caroline Singler, August 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean
Date of Post: 8 August 2010

Polar Bear, Polar Bear! – 9 August 2010

Bear in the distance
Bear in the distance

Yes, folks, they are out here. There were a couple of sightings on Sunday 8 August, but I missed them both. However, Monday 9 August 2010 was the day that I saw my first polar bear in the Arctic. The last time I saw a polar bear was in the St. Louis Zoo, and it looked about as unhappy to be in the heat and humidity as I was. This time was a lot different.

Polar Bear in the distance
Polar Bear in the distance

I received a page while working in a lab on one of the lower decks. Before I turned off my pager, Bill came running down to get his camera and told me there was a polar bear off the port side of the ship. We could just barely see a spot on the distant horizon, slightly less white than the surrounding ice. I went up to the Bridge to get a better view, and most of the science team was there. I didn’t have to ask where it was; I just followed the line of everyone’s binoculars and cameras. Once I had a sense of what to look for and where to look, it became easier to spot, and it obliged us by moving closer to the ship. We were holding position at the time for a water sampling event, so we got a good long view as the bear ambled along. It was like watching a nature movie. It stopped every once in a while to sniff the air, and it walked along, stepping or jumping across melt ponds on the ice. We watched for at least a half hour before it moved out of site.Here are some of my best shots.

Polar Bear Walking in the distance
Polar Bear Walking in the distance
Polar Bear near the water
Polar Bear near the water
I hope those images help cool you off for a minute or two!

Christine Hedge, August 29, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 29, 2009

Science Party Profile – George Neakok 

George Neakok (left) and Justin Pudenz watch for marine mammals from the bridge of the Healy.
George Neakok (left) and Justin Pudenz watch for marine mammals from the bridge of the Healy.

George Neakok is on board the Healy as our Community Observer from the North Slope Borough. A borough is like a county government.  Except, since Alaska is so huge, the North Slope Borough is roughly the size of the state of Minnesota.  George acts as the eyes of the Inupiat (native people of the North Slope) community while on board the Healy. The Inupiat people are subsistence hunters. They live off the animals and plants of the Arctic and have a real stake in how other people are using the same lands and waters they depend on for survival. George spends hours on the bridge each day looking for life outside the Healy and noting any encounters the ship has with wildlife in general and marine mammals in particular. He is a resident of Barrow, Alaska (one of the 7 villages in the Borough) and has acted as an observer for 2 years traveling on 5 different expeditions. George says he was selected for the Community Observer job because he is a good hunter and has good eyes.  He is too humble.  His life experience has endowed him with fascinating knowledge about the ice, animals, and the Arctic world in general.  George can see a polar bear a kilometer away and know how old it is, how healthy, and what sex.

I asked George to share a little about his life and the kinds of changes he has observed in the Arctic. He has always lived in Barrow except for 2 years when he went away to Kenai Peninsula College to study Petroleum Technology. His dad died while he was away and so he returned home to help his mother.  He has worked in the natural gas fields near Barrow and expects to work in the new field southwest of Barrow in the future.  George has 7 children ranging in age from 20 years to 9 months.  His youngest daughter is adopted, which he says is very common in his culture. There are no orphans.  If a child needs a home, another family will take that child in.  Although his children are being raised in a world with cell phones and snowmobiles – they are still learning to live the way their ancestors have always lived.

Erosion on the coast of Barrow, Alaska is an ever increasing problem.
Erosion on the coast of Barrow, Alaska is an ever increasing problem.

George and his community are a part of  both an ancient and a modern world.  With each season comes another type of food to hunt or collect. The Neakok family hunts caribou, bowhead whale, seals, walrus, beluga, and geese each in its’ own season.  They fish in fresh water and in the Chukchi Sea. They collect berries, roots, greens and eggs, storing them in seal oil to preserve them until they are needed.  Food is stored in ice cellars.  These are underground rooms that can keep food frozen all year round. The animals that are hunted are used for more than just food.  The Inupiat make boats from seal or walrus skin.  In Inupiat culture, the blubber, oil, tusks, baleen and meat are all useful in some way.  If one community has a very successful hunt, they share with their neighbors.  If a community has a bad hunt, they know that other villages will help them out.  Villages come together to meet, celebrate, trade and share what they have caught.  George says this is just the way it is.  People take care of their neighbors.

FOR MY STUDENTS: What can we learn from the people of the North Slope about community? 

A polar bear, spotted by George, travels over thin ice by spreading out his body weight.  (Photo courtesy of Pat Kelley USCG)
A polar bear travels over thin ice by spreading out his body weight. (Photo courtesy of Pat Kelley)

George has witnessed much change in his life.  He notes that the seasons are coming earlier and staying later. The shore ice used to start forming in late August but lately it has been forming in late September or early October. When there is less ice close to land, there are fewer animals to hunt.  Whaling off the ice is getting more and more dangerous. The ice is more “rotten” and camping on the ice during the hunt can be treacherous. In recent years, more and more hunters have lost their equipment when the ice gave way.

Erosion of the coastline is another recent problem.  Without ice to protect the shoreline the wave action eats away at the permafrost causing coastlines to collapse.  George has seen a coastal hillside where he used to sled – crumble into the ocean. Entire villages have been moved farther inland as the coastal erosion eats away at the land. George is hopeful that although the Arctic is changing fast, the Inupiat people and culture will handle these changes and continue to live and thrive on the North Slope of Alaska.    

Christine Hedge, August 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 20, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Lat: 80.570 N
Long: 151.320 W
Air Temp: 29.210 F

Science and Technology Log 

The science computer lab is where the data is observed. Processors clean the data of all the extraneous noise and spikes. Not every beam is returned and some take a bad bounce off a fish, chunk of ice or a bubble.
The science computer lab is where the data is observed. Processors clean the data of all the extraneous noise and spikes. Not every beam is returned and some take a bad bounce off a fish, chunk of ice or a bubble.

The Healy is collecting bathymetric data on this trip.  Bathymetric data will tell us how deep the ocean is and what the terrain of the ocean floor is like.  Less than 6% of the floor of the Arctic Ocean has been mapped.  So, this data will help us to learn about some places for the very first time.  The word bathymetry comes from the Greek – bathy= deep and metry = to measure.

NOTE TO STUDENTS: If you learn Latin/Greek word parts you can understand almost any word! 

How Do We Collect This Data? 

There are two main devices the Healy is using to measure the depth to the seafloor.  One is called the multibeam echosounder. It sends a beam of sound, which reflects off the bottom and sends back up to 121 beams to a receiver. By measuring the time it takes for the sound to return the multibeam can accurately map the surface of the sea floor.  This allows the multibeam to “see” a wide swath of seafloor – kilometers wide.  The other device is bouncing a single beam off the bottom and “seeing” a profile of that spot. This one is called a single beam echosounder or sub-bottom profiler. The single beam actually penetrates the sea floor to show a cross-section of the layers of sediment. Both are mounted on the hull of the ship and send their data and images to computers in the science lab.

What Does Mrs. Hedge Do? 

This screen shows the multibeam bathymetry data.  Depth is measured over a swath about 8 kilometers wide on this particular screen.  Purple is the deepest (3850 m) and orange is the most shallow (3000 m).  You can see that for most of this trip we were on flat abyssal plain and then we hit a little bump on the sea floor about 450 meters tall.
This screen shows the multibeam bathymetry data. Depth is measured over a swath about 8 kilometers wide on this particular screen. Purple is the deepest (3850 m) and orange is the most shallow (3000 m). You can see that for most of this trip we were on flat abyssal plain and then we hit a little bump on the sea floor about 450 meters tall.

The science crew takes turns “standing watch”. We have 3 teams; each watches the computers that display the bathymetry data for an 8-hour shift. My watch is from 8 am until 4 pm.  We need to look at how many beams are being received and sometimes make adjustments.  Traveling through heavy ice makes data collection challenging. We also need to “log” or record anything that might impact the data collection such the ship turning, stopping, heavy ice, or a change in speed. When we are going over an interesting feature on the seafloor, our job is engaging. When the seafloor is flat, the 8-hour shift can seem pretty long!

How Did People Do This Before Computers? 

Until the 1930’s, the depth of the ocean was taken by lowering a lead weight on a heavy rope over the side of a boat and measuring how much rope it took until the weight hit the bottom. This was called a lead line.  Then the boat would move and do this again, over and over.

Another bear was spotted from the Healy. Photo Pat Kelley.
Another bear was spotted from the Healy. Photo Pat Kelley.

This method was very time consuming because it only measured depth at one point in time.    Between soundings, people would just infer what the depth was.  Using sound to measure depth is a huge improvement compared to soundings with a weighted rope.  For example, in 100 meters of water, with a lead line 10 soundings per hour could be obtained.  With multibeam at the same depth, 1,500,000 soundings can be obtained per hour.  Mapping the ocean floor has become much more accurate and precise.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you think of other areas of science where improvements in technology lead to huge improvements and new discoveries? 

Personal Log 

When a polar bear is spotted, the deck fills with hopeful observers.
When a polar bear is spotted, the deck fills with hopeful observers.

Last night, there was an announcement right after I went to bed that polar bears had been spotted.  I threw on some clothes and ran outside.  There was a female and cub 2 kilometers away.  With binoculars, I could see them pretty well.  The adult kept turning around and looking at the cub over her shoulder. I suspect, the cub was being told to hurry up!  When a bear is spotted, the deck of the ship fills up with hopeful observers no matter what time of day it is.

FOR MY STUDENTS: I heard that the old polar bear at the Indianapolis Zoo died recently. Will there still be a polar bear exhibit at the zoo?  What are the plans for the future? 

Maggie Prevenas, April 17, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 17, 2007

Species Profiles

belugawhale-368x400Beluga Whale

Today a beluga whale was spotted from the helicopter. The whale was swimming in a small open area in the middle of an ice flow. This open water is called a ‘polynya.’ Read on to learn more about these beautiful whales. In the next few days, I will have the chance to add photos from Belugas we see.

What is really cool about beluga whales?

Beluga whales (also called white whales) are known to strand on mud flats without apparent harm. They are able to wait for the next high tide to swim away.

Adult beluga whales have been observed carrying odd objects such as planks, buoys, and even caribou skeletons during calving seasons. It is believed that if a female beluga loses her newborn, she might interact with these objects as a calf surrogate.

Beluga whales have a flexible neck due to cervical vertebrae (backbone) that are not fused, as in other cetaceans. This allows them to move their head up, down, and to the side. Their bulbous forehead, called a melon, is also very flexible allowing them to make many different facial expressions. Movement of the melon is associated with the production of sounds.

Beluga whales are known as the “canaries of the sea” because they produce a vast repertoire of sounds including whistles, squeals, moos, chirps, and clicks. These sounds are used for communication within their social groups and also use to locate prey through echolocation.

What are beluga whales like?

The name beluga comes from the Russian word “bielo” meaning white. Beluga whales live, hunt, and migrate together in pods of a few, to hundreds of whales. Beluga whales are extremely social. In the summer, they are often found near river mouths, and sometimes even venture up river (as far as 621.4 miles (1000 kilometers) in the Yukon River). However, recent satellite tagging research has shown that beluga whales also spend time offshore, diving to depths of at least 1,148 feet (350 meters) where they are likely feeding on deepwater prey.

Where do beluga whales live?

Beluga whales inhabit the Arctic and subarctic regions of Russia, Greenland, and North America. Some populations are strongly migratory, moving north in the spring and south in the fall as the ice forms in the Arctic. As the ice breaks up in the spring, the whales move north again feeding near river mouths and offshore. There are a few isolated populations that do not migrate in the spring, including those in the Cook Inlet, Alaska and the St. Lawrence estuary in Canada.

How many beluga whales are there?

Beluga whales are not considered an endangered species however some stocks are faring better than others. NMML has done extensive work with some stocks of beluga whales including the Beaufort Sea, Eastern Chukchi Sea, Eastern Bering Sea, Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet stocks. You can read more about these stocks in the NMFS Alaska and Atlantic stock assessment reports.

How can I identify a beluga whale?

Belugas are born dark gray. They turn white as they mature sometimes taking 3-8 years to reach their adult coloration. Adult beluga whales can grow up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) long. Females are generally smaller than males. Belugas have large melons and very short snouts. Interestingly enough, unlike other cetaceans, beluga whales also have the ability to move their head independent of their body.

Beluga whales do not have dorsal fins. Dorsal fins would be a major hindrance during the winter when they live in the loose pack ice of the Arctic. A dorsal fin would cause extra heat loss when Arctic animals, such as belugas, need to conserve heat. They do have a tough dorsal ridge which, along with their head, can be used to break ice for breathing holes.

How well can a beluga whale see or hear?

Beluga whales have well-developed, acute senses. They can hear a vast range of sounds and have excellent vision in and out of water. Belugas may have some sense of taste, but they do not have the brain receptors or olfactory structures for the sense of smell.

Belugas often hang in pods. This huge pod was seen on Saturday April 21 by the Ice Seal team as they were recording a transect.
Belugas often hang in pods. This huge pod was seen on Saturday April 21 by the Ice Seal team as they were recording a transect.

What do beluga whales eat?

Beluga whales are diverse eaters, with more than 100 prey species identified including salmon, capelin, herring, shrimp, Arctic cod, flounder, and even crab. They feed in both open water (pelagic) or on the bottom (benthic) and in shallow and deepwater habitats.

How do beluga whales have their young?

Female beluga whales are old enough to reproduce at 4-7 years of age and males at 7-9 years. Beluga whales mate in the spring, the exact time varying geographically. The following year, after a 14-15 month gestation period, females give birth to single calves (and on a rare occasion twins) that are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long. Calves nurse for at least 12-18 months, but may continue to nurse for another year after beginning to eat solid food.

How long do beluga whales live? How do they die?

Beluga whales are thought to live for 35-50 years. Beluga whales are prey to killer whales and polar bears. They can also die when entrapped by ice.

Some beluga whale populations have been greatly reduced as a result of hunting practices. Historically, large numbers of beluga whales were hunted commercially. Today only subsistence hunting is allowed in U.S. waters. Beluga whales’ affinity for shallow coastal waters puts them at risk as humans alter coastlines and estuaries with pollution, dams, and off-shore petroleum exploration and extraction. Canada’s St. Lawrence Estuary is an example where industrial pollution has caused high beluga whale mortality.

More information can be found on the internet at:

This material was taken word for word from the following website. Please give them all the credit in the world should you wish to use this information in a report.


On the hunt
On the hunt

Polar Bear: Ursus maritimus

On board the Healy, there is one helicopter that is being used by the folks from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory to do population studies. Today they went out for two runs. In the first run, the team saw a Polar Bear eating walrus. The photos for polar bear will be added as soon as they become available. If you’d like to learn more about them, read on.

Polar bears live year round near arctic waters hunting seal and other animals, rarely coming on land except on islands and rocky points.  In winter they hunt along the Arctic shelves looking for tasty seals, fish, and even humans!  Their white coats provide camouflage in the ice and snow which make them almost invisible as they stalk their prey.

In winter, when they are far from land they search for breathing holes made by seals.  When the seal comes up for air, the polar bear will kill it and flip it out of the water with a single blow of its great clawed paw! Polar bears are very dangerous, and grow to a huge size and weigh as much as small automobile (1000 pounds). They have longer legs than other bears and large furry feet. These big feet help to distribute their weight as they walk on thin ice in the arctic waters. Polar bears are strong swimmers and can stay submerged for two minutes at a time. Their fur is made of hollow hairs which trap air and help to insulate them in the frigid waters.

After the kill
After the kill

In November polar bears retire to dens dug out of the snow or permafrost. The females remain until the spring when they emerge with one or two cubs who stay with them for the next year and a half. The males spend a shorter time in the dens and may be seen out and about at any time of the year.

19th Century Naturalist Edward Nelson Recounts:

“The Eskimo of Saint Lawrence Island and the American coast are well supplied with firearms which they use when bear-hunting.  In winter, north of the straits, the bears often become thin and very savage from lack of food.

A number of Eskimo on the Alaskan coast show frightful scars obtained in contests with them in winter.  One man, who came on board the Corwin, had the entire skin and flesh torn from one side of his head and face including the eye and ear, yet had escaped and recovered. One incident was related to me which occurred near Point Hope during the winter of 1880-’81. Men went out from Point Hope during one of the long winter nights to attend to their seal nets, which were set through holes in the ice.  While at work near each other, one of the men heard a bear approaching over the frosty snow, and having no weapon but a small knife, and the bear being between him and the shore, he threw himself upon his back on the ice and waited.  The bear came up and for a few moments smelled about the man from head to foot, and finally pressed his cold nose against the man’s lips and nose and sniffed several times; each time the terrified Eskimo held his breath until, as he afterwards said, his lungs nearly burst. The bear suddenly heard the other man at work, and listening for a moment he started towards him at a gallop, while the man he left sprang to his feet and ran for his life for the village and reached it safely.  At midday, when the sun had risen a little above the horizon, a large party went out to the spot and found the bear finishing his feast upon the other hunter and soon dispatched him.  Cases similar to this occur occasionally all along the coast where the bear is found in winter.”

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