For centuries, narwhals and ringed seals have provided food for Inuit communities on the ice floes of Mittimatalik, or Pond Inlet, on Baffin Island in northern Canada. But now Inuit, who have hunted, trapped and fished in the region since long before the Hudson’s Bay Company opened its first Arctic trading camp here in 1921, say they no longer find the narwhals where they should be. be. They say shipping noise is to blame.

A rare view of a narwhal near Baffin Island, Canada.
Narwhal can only be seen farther out at sea, near Baffin Island, Canada. Photography: Wildestanimal/Alamy

researchers I liked the transition from a single icebreaker, increasingly present in the Arctic, to an underwater rock concert. Ship noise can be caused by everything from the propellers to the shape of the hull to the machinery on board. It can disrupt the activities marine mammals need to survive, reducing their communication space, causing them stress, and displacing them from important habitats.

The underwater noise due to the increase in boat traffic has It has doubled in intensity in the Arctic over the past six years, and is expected to at least double again over the next decade, as ice melts and new shipping lanes open up due to the climate crisis.

“The Inuit community in Mittimatalik has observed an increase in shipping and shipping noise, and collectors are not seeing narwhals in their usual spots,” said Lisa Koperqualuk, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). “They have to go further to hunt them, which carries risks, costs more fuel and affects the transfer of cultural knowledge.”

Local children stand on the shore as the Coast Guard ship Des Groseilliers sits in the waters near the arctic community of Pond Inlet, Nunavut.
Local children stand on the shore as the Coast Guard ship Des Groseilliers sits in the waters near the arctic community of Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

This week the ICC, a body representing 180,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka in Russia has urged the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) to take mandatory measures to reduce noise from underwater shipping, which they fear is affecting marine mammals.

Although the Inuit depend on shipping for essential goods and services, they want to make sure the ships have a low impact on the environment. arctic environment, which is sensitive to underwater noise and other types of pollution, Koperqualuk said.

A sign outside a cultural center on Baffin Island.  Inuit groups fear that the interruption of the hunt will also affect the transfer of knowledge to younger generations.
A sign outside a cultural center on Baffin Island. Inuit groups fear that the interruption of the hunt will also affect the transfer of knowledge to younger generations. Photograph: Karen Foley/Alamy

“Greenland whales, belugas, ringed seals and narwhals – these are the main marine mammals we depend on and are caught every year by Inuit collectors,” Koperqualuk said. “If Inuit hunting is affected, knowledge transfer is also affected. There are fewer opportunities for the younger generations to learn.”

underwater noise of ships It is known to affect some species of whales, including narwhals and belugas, as well as fish such as Arctic cod, according to the Arctic Council, an international forum of the eight Arctic countries and six Arctic indigenous groups, including the ICC.

In 2014, the IMO approved guidelines for reducing underwater noise from commercial shipping, and is discussing whether to revise them this week at a London meeting on ship design. The Inuit body wants mandatory guidelines, while Canada proposed a working group specifically to analyze noise.

The committee is also responsible for incorporating indigenous knowledge into its work, allowing Inuit and indigenous communities to participate in the process and explore ways to increase adoption of the guidelines.

Inuit groups and other NGOs say the voluntary nature of the guidelines means there has been little progress in reducing noise from submarine transport. HAS study For Transport Canada, the American Chamber of Shipping and WWF Canada reported that a key barrier limiting acceptance of the guidelines was their non-binding and non-regulatory nature.

Meanwhile, the noise of underwater shipping keep doubling roughly every decade, disproportionately affecting the Arctic and Norwegian seas.

Sarah Bobbe, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic program, urged the IMO to act. “In addition to global measures, even stricter regional measures will be necessary to reduce noise pollution from ships in areas like the Arctic,” she said.

The Arctic is a special case, he said, because of the way sound travels long distances, how it can affect marine life and the resulting effect on Inuit communities.

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