Magical Northern Lights Videos

Enjoy these fantastic short northern lights video clips that will remind us all of the season of lights in January and March. The Arctic summer season is almost upon us and soon beluga whales will take over the spotlight. Wildflowers, birds and whales will highlight our postings for the next few months and if the conditions are just right we may see some spectacular late evening northern lights as the summer wanes. Looking forward to an exciting summer beluga whale season with all types of treasures uncovered on the Hudson Bay water and the Churchill tundra.

President Obama Protects Arctic Waters

Outgoing President Barack Obama executed a critical order on Tuesday by banning any new gas and oil drilling in federal waters in Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The move comes as an environmental safeguard prior to the new Republican administration taking office January 20th lead by President elect Donald Trump.

Utilizing a 1950s-era law termed the Outer Continental Shelf Act, Obama used the power of President to limit areas from mineral leasing and drilling. Trump’s incoming administration will only be able to challenge and change the edict by fighting it in court according to several environmental groups agreeing with the order.

Arctic waters

Map of the Arctic waters to the north of Alaska just protected by President Obama. BOEM image.

The Alaskan waters ban affects 115 million acres in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea as well as 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic Ocean. A main concern of environmental advocates regarding fuel exploration in the region is the devastating affects an oil spill or gas leakage in the oceans would have on the ecosystems. Such a remote and harsh climate would severely limit the capabilities of clean-up crews and emergency response teams. Wildlife such as polar bears, whales, seals and fish would be harmed and populations of the animals could be irreversibly destroyed.

Trump has continually stated that he will seek to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the waters north of Alaska. Recent releases from his energy transition team  predicted increases in production in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These forecasts have been dealt a serious blow and are likely “dead in the water” at this time. Trump spokespeople would not comment on the actions.

Very limited oil and gas exploration has been happening in recent years as less expensive shale oil production primarily out of Texas and North Dakota has been the priority. Drilling off Arctic shores in Alaska is more expensive and risky in nature. Most notably, Shell Oil pulled out of the waters just last year following a shipping accident and limitation laws discovered by environmental groups limiting exploration.

Proponents for drilling such as the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group, stated that Trump would be able to use a presidential memorandum to lift the ban rendering the move by Obama obsolete. “We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy,” said Erik Milito, API’s upstream director.

Arctic Ocean Alaska

A view over the now protected Arctic waters from Barrow, Alaska. NASA photo.

Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are in agreement with protecting Arctic waters. The two leaders are initiating joint actions and these actions “reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.” stated Obama.

In similar action Trudeau and Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters off limits indefinitely to any future offshore Arctic gas and oil licensing. These sanctions will be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment. Obama’s action, unlike the five year review applied to the Canadian law, contains no designated analysis period outlined for the U.S. law.

Under current law, authorization is not granted for reversing a previous presidential order of this kind so efforts by Trump to challenge this move will most likely need to be taken up in court via a lawsuit.

“No president has ever tried to undo a permanent withdrawal of an ocean area from leasing eligibility,” said Neil Lawrence, Alaska director and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Beluga Whales Galore in Churchill

This aeriel video footage by Brian Fergusson gives us an idea of the incredible numbers of beluga whales in the waters surrounding the town of Churchill. The Hudson Bay and the Churchill River are filled with belugas and their young calves. The whales migrate from the north and spend the summer months in these estuaries all along the southern Hudson Bay coastline. Churchill has become the prime destination for travelers to view the pods of whales from zodiacs, kayaks and even snorkel with the mammals in the cool water. There’s no other accessible point to view thousands of belugas in such a condensed area and Churchill provides the infrastructure to comfortably partake in whale viewing excursions.

Beluga Whales from a Drone’s Perspective

 

National Geographic wildlife photographer Nansen Weber has been going to Cunningham Inlet by Canada’s Somerset Island in the high Arctic with his cameras for 16 years. Every summer thousands of beluga whales join him for an amazing spectacle in the shallow inlet. For about a month, the beluga whales gather for what is a very social time as well as  molting period and nursery time for newborns. The Cunningham River is a northerly version of the Churchill and surrounding estuaries in the southern Hudson Bay in that its’ temperatures average eight degrees F warmer than the surrounding ocean waters. The warmer water is a welcome respite for the whales and facilitates the behavior mentioned.

Weber and the whales seem to coexist in the inlet with the belugas approaching him closely as if they remember him from the year before. The drone footage of the whales, polar bears, and the incredible rugged landscape lends perspective to the massive wild region that is largely unspoiled.

That notion could be changing however with climate change and federal policy allowing research and transport throughout the Arctic. Shipping channels around the Northwest Passage are becoming more accessible with ice reduction due to warming temperatures. This will allow large ships in the region and they, with all the noise they produce,  will undoubtedly have an affect on the animals echolocation faculties.

“This might be the only place on Earth you can enjoy the beluga whales like this that is still wild like it’s been for the last 500 years, but maybe it’s going to be changing. Just in my lifetime of being in the Arctic for 20 years, I’ve seen climate change. There’s new birds that are migrating up north that I haven’t seen before, there’s mosquitoes now where there shouldn’t be mosquitoes, the ice patterns and weather patterns are all weird. It’s kind of a dilemma that’s always there in the back of your head while you’re enjoying the beluga whale spectacle in front of you,” Weber says.

Weber’s videos and photos shed light on how ship traffic and resulting noise pollution may alter the beluga whale population’s migratory routes. “There has been scientific evidence that the ship traffic—the sonar—affects the communication between the belugas, so that could definitely be a problem for the future for our belugas in Cunningham Inlet.”

All of the Arctic region and all of its inhabitants will be affected with changing climate. “It’s not only about the beluga whales. I mean, we have polar bears, there’s narwhals and bowheads along the Northwest Passage, arctic char that run in the rivers. Inland you have the musk ox, the caribou that graze, all the migratory birds that fly up every summer to enjoy the short arctic summer, the snowy owls, the falcons. It’s just a huge ecosystem that’s all tied together,” states Weber.

Extraordinary Talking Beluga Whales

Beluga whales trained by biologists to retrieve experimental torpedoes in the 1970’s and 80’s in Arctic cold waters thought of themselves as family to the crew. They often formed deep bonds with their trainers and would stay with them even though they were able to swim freely. The whales, especially one, learned to express their devotion in a quite human-like way over the years!

Beluga whale

Beluga whale communicating with his pod in Churchill. Ellen Cuylaerts photo.

Biologist Sam Ridgeway was one of the bilogists working with the whales and had high praise for the mammals.

“They come to think of us as family,” Ridgway said. “And that’s the reason they stay with us. We have no way of completely controlling them, and yet they do their job and come back. They kind of view themselves as part of a team.”

One of the belugas was named Noc (pronounced no-see) and he was particularly bonded to the staff. One day a navy diver thought he heard a command from his supervisor over the intercom while diving but it wasn’t from him. it was actually Noc mimicking human voice after carefully observing the interactions and commands from his loyal crew.

The diver thought he heard a voice order him to get out of the training tank. However his supervisor had not given any such order. Noc had over – inflated his nasal cavity in order to distort the sound he emitted. It was eerily human – like. Following this initial incident, Noc often attempted to communicate with his trainers and even did so on command.

If you listen closely you will hear the underwater dialogue that closely resembles human speech. Many whales and dolphins have this incredible ability to communicate through language. Blue whales have been studied and found to communicate over a 1000 mile stretch of ocean. We have so much more to learn from these incredible animals in the realm of audible communication!

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