Climate change blamed for rising mercury levels in whales

Rising mercury levels in Arctic marine mammals, especially beluga whales, is due to the changing climate, a federal scientist says.

Rising mercury levels in Arctic marine mammals, especiallybeluga whales, is due to the changing climate, afederal scientistsays.

Temperatures in the Mackenzie Basin have risen by three degrees in30 years, said marine biologist Dr. Gary Stern, who is with the Fisheries and Oceans Department and part of a teamaboard the Amundsen ResearchIcebreaker.

The changeshave resulted in more forest fires, warmer water andmelting permafrost which, in turn, sends more mercury into the Beaufort Sea.

The loss of thick multi-year iceis also a factor, he said.

"You are getting beluga actually being able to access areas within the Beaufort Sea that they haven't previously been able to access," Stern said.

"Some of those areas … have higher levels of mercury in them so as things change these animals can now reach these locations and feed."

Mercury affects the reproductive and immune systems of beluga whales, he said.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is working with hunters who provide samples from the whales they kill for food, he said.

Although the mercury levels are on the rise,people are not being discouraged from eating whale meat because the benefits still outweigh the risks, he said.