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Antarctic future on thin ice

Antarctic future on thin ice
Ari Friedlaender’s passion for the southernmost oceans

Whales are the biggest animals that have ever lived on the planet; they’re the ultimate ocean predators; and they represent the health of oceans,” says Ari Friedlaender. “Where you find whales, you find healthy ocean ecosystems that can support a lot of life.”

Friedlaender is an ecologist in OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute whose research in the foraging behavior of whales and their prey has taken him to all the oceans on Earth. But it’s the oceans of Antarctica that Friedlaender is most passionate about.

“Antarctica does not exist for our needs and desires,” Friedlaender writes in his book, Unframable, in which he shares the beauty of Antarctica through the lens of his camera. “There is heuristic value for this place to exist and persist without our fingerprints scattered on it.”

And yet, his research documents the undeniable fingerprints of climate change on the Antarctic, which he calls “the greatest wilderness on our planet.” The waters around the Antarctic Peninsula support vast amounts of krill and high densities of krill predators, according to Friedlaender. Over the past fifty years, this region has warmed at a faster rate than any other on the planet, and the number of ice-free days during winter has increased by nearly a month. This has rearranged the distribution and abundance of krill, and whales.

Marine Ecologist Ari Friedlaender researches whales in Antarctica and how the changing climate is impacting their environment. (National Geographic video.)

Friedlaender offers a rare look at the disappearing world of Antarctica’s whales in the new National Geographic show Continent 7. “It is imperative that we understand the rapid climate changes that are being observed,” he says, “and how they will affect the relationships between sea ice, krill, whales, and the other predators that call the Antarctic home.” In our "Depth of Field," Friedlaender shares one of his photographs of this Antarctic home and the whales that live there.

Published in: Ecosystems, Water