Polar Biology

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 639–644 | Cite as

Ice entrapment mortality may slow expanding presence of Arctic killer whales

  • Cory J. D. MatthewsEmail author
  • Stephen A. Raverty
  • Dawn P. Noren
  • Lucassie Arragutainaq
  • Steven H. Ferguson
Short Note


Killer whales (Orcinus orca) occur seasonally in the eastern Canadian Arctic during the summer months. Increasing killer whale sightings throughout the region, and incursions into areas where they have not historically been observed, have been linked with declining sea ice, which has raised questions about the potential ecological impacts of a greater killer whale presence in the Arctic. Here we report on four killer whales that died of starvation after overwintering in southeastern Hudson Bay. This incident is similar to two other reported killer whale ice entrapments in Hudson Bay in 2011 and 2013, which together exceed the incidence of such events over the previous century. The six confirmed, and up to 16 more assumed, deaths due to ice entrapments over the past decade almost certainly represent significant levels of mortality for the population(s) of killer whales in the Canadian Arctic. Ice entrapments of naïve killer whales exploring new Arctic territory may therefore offer a natural check on range expansions in the region, particularly in convoluted inland bays and inlets into which they pursue previously inaccessible prey, but fail to exit prior to ice formation.


Bioenergetics Climate change Distribution Histopathology Orcinus orca Stable isotopes 



The Sanikiluaq Hunters and Trappers Association tracked sightings and organized sample collection by J. Kavik, L. Takatak, and N. Arragutainaq. S. Etheridge and J. Taylor (Animal Health Center, Abbotsford B.C) assisted with histopathology. K. Johnson (University of Windsor Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research) performed stable isotope analysis. We thank J. Ford, J. Higdon, and C. Watt for reviewing earlier versions of this manuscript. This research was funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Nunavut General Monitoring Plan, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicting interests to declare.

Ethical Approval

Ethics approval was not required for sampling of dead animals.


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Copyright information

© Crown 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arctic Aquatic Research DivisionFisheries and Oceans CanadaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Animal Health CenterAbbotsfordCanada
  3. 3.Conservation Biology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries ServiceNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Sanikiluaq Hunters and Trappers AssociationSanikiluaqCanada

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