Lutra 60(1)_Haelters_Editorial_2017

Arctic climate fugitives?

Hooray Hooray! A bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) was spotted off the Belgian and Dutch coasts during March and April 2017! It was probably the first bowhead whale ever recorded in the whole of the North Sea. Dozens of enthusiastic naturalists, including myself, hurried to the coast to observe this rare Arctic wanderer close to the beach. Some were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the massive animal, or at least of its V-shaped blow, but many were disappointed, arriving a day too late. They shouldn’t worry: the animal, or one of its conspecifics, might be back soon, in the coming months or years. Or perhaps they do need to worry? Our enthusiasm should also allow room for mindful uneasiness.

First of all, the possible way back home for this magnificent giant – and let’s hope it does make it home - lies full of obstacles in the form of treacherous shores, areas with no suitable food, intense shipping, trash, lost fishing gear and killer whales (Orcinus orca), a predator from which it is relatively safe in ice-covered waters. But secondly ...