Sea ice along the east coast of Banks Island in the western Canadian Arctic. Photo courtesy UVic researcher William Halliday, a co-author of the new study led by UVic marine biologist Lauren McWhinnie.

Sea ice along the east coast of Banks Island in the western Canadian Arctic. Photo courtesy UVic researcher William Halliday, a co-author of the new study led by UVic marine biologist Lauren McWhinnie.

A study led by a University of Victoria marine biologist is warning of the future of Arctic marine mammals because of shrinking ice and increased shipping traffic.

Lauren McWhinnie says as Arctic sea ice levels diminish, more vessel traffic is likely to impact the social behaviour and long-term survival of marine life such as belugas and bowhead whales.

McWhinnie says those species rely on quiet environments to communicate and hunt food and climate change is bringing a longer ice-free season.

The study, to be published in the June 2018 edition of Ocean and Coastal Management, calls for precautions such as voluntary vessel speed and zone restrictions to limit the impacts of noise and ship strikes.

“We can start by trying to apply the lessons learned from vessel management in heavily trafficked southern regions while we still have the opportunity to do things right in the Arctic,” McWhinnie said.

“A voluntary restriction on vessel speed will reduce the likelihood of ship strikes and contribute to reducing noise levels. Other trial studies have shown that slower vessels pose less risk to marine mammals.”

The study is being shared with local and federal governments, coastal communities and the shipping industry by Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, an organization that co-authored the report.

Andy Neal