A rare sighting In 2002 I had the opportunity to visited Kamchatka as part of a delegation to establish cultural ties with the Unangan People in the Commander Islands. During a stop off in Petropavlovsk, I visited a museum where I was amazed to see the skeletal remains of the now extinct Steller's sea cow. I had heard stories about Georg Steller and the sea cow since childhood, and it was fantastic to see firsthand the remains of this mythical member of the wonderfully named order of Sirenia. I had pictured sea cows as being about the size of walrus. However, these were actually massive animals, three times that size, heavy boned and reaching lengths of 9 meters. When Georg Steller first described (and dined on) a sea cow in 1741, it was part of relatively small remnant population (probably less than 1,000) living around the Commander Islands. Unfortunately, the sea cow was easy to hunt and had meat that tasted like... well, cow. Within 30 years, they had been hunted to extinction. It remains today a symbol of marine mammal vulnerability to over-hunting. Another marine mammal species, the Northern sea otter, was able to rebound from the intensive hunting of that period which gives us hope that other species, with proper management, can also recover. Another slow moving and coveted marine mammal is the Northern right whale, one of the most endangered species on the planet. Only about 100 are thought to exist. They were hunted to near extinction in the 1960s. It is estimated the population in Alaska numbers about 30, so it was amazing luck and a good omen in August when two separate pairs were spotted west of Kodiak Island. It was the first whale survey since 2015 and the repeat sightings and identification of a unique pair was encouraging. NOAA lists threats to right whales including vessel strikes, entanglement, ocean noise, harmful algae and climate change. You can read about this rare sighting, a paper on the sea cow, and news events about other marine wildlife in this edition. Also from the LEO Resilience Desk, please see the CBC article about the first electric charging station in Northern Quebec. Mike Brubaker, Editor.
Dylan Simard /
Alaska Public Media /
September 13, 2021
Biologist Jessica Crance witnessed both sightings personally, and is among a handful of living people who have seen one of this population of right whales up close since the species was devastated by commercial whaling.
This study examines another mechanism of human impact on large species. If humans hunted a keystone species to a certain tipping point or extinction, they may have indirectly triggered a collapse of a complex ecosystem, leading to a chain reaction resulting in the extinction of other species. Since it is difficult to study ecosystems that existed thousands of years ago, the authors researched a more recent megafauna extinction event of the Steller’s sea cow in the mid-1700s, for which a few in person observations from Georg Steller exist.
Nearly 30 transient orcas were spotted in the Salish Sea around British Columbia and Washington state over the Labor Day weekend, a positive sign for the species, according to local whale watchers and researchers.
Larissa Kyzer /
Iceland Review /
September 7, 2021
A second glacial outburst flood began in the eastern Skaftá ice cauldron under Vatnajökull glacier late Saturday evening, RÚV reports. This flood follows a smaller one that originated in the western Skaftá ice cauldron and is expected to do as much damage to local communities and farmland as the last glacial outburst flood on the Skaftá river in 2018.
The Northern Climate Observer is published by the Center for Climate and Health. We track news coverage from across the circumpolar north and provide readers with a curated roundup of climate change related events. Thank you for reading our newsletter and for paying attention to our changing world.
Please forward this newsletter or share it on social media. Join the LEO Network to share your own stories of environmental change.
You may subscribe or unsubscribe from this newsletter by
Northern Climate Observer
The Northern Climate Observer is published weekly by the Center for Climate and Health. We track news from across the circumpolar north and provide readers with a curated roundup of climate change related events.