Interacting effects of contaminants and climate change on the health of the western Arctic beluga whales

The Arctic environment is changing rapidly, and this change may influence the health of organisms that live there, such as belugas. In periods of low sea ice extent, belugas in the Beaufort Sea showed altered expression genes involved in various aspects of health. Further, polychlorinated biphenyls, contaminants of concern, were also associated with altered gene expression. These results indicate that climate change and contaminants are playing a role in the health of beluga whales. However, these data were collected over a small time-frame and therefore observations must be extended in order to draw conclusions. Further, the combined impacts of climate change and contaminants have not been explored. We will utilize both novel and existing techniques to determine the impacts of these two stressors on beluga health in order to shed some light on the long-term trend of western Arctic beluga health in a changing Arctic environment and contribute to Ocean Wise’s conservation and research efforts.

Intern: 
Ellika Crichton
Faculty Supervisor: 
Jeffrey Richards
Province: 
British Columbia
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