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Kristin Laidre

Principal Oceanographer

Assistant Professor, Fisheries





Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center

Kristin Laidre's Website



2000-present and while at APL-UW

Vulnerability of Arctic marine mammals to vessel traffic in the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route

Hauser, D.D.W., K.L. Laidre, and H.L. Stern, "Vulnerability of Arctic marine mammals to vessel traffic in the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route," Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, EOR, doi:10.1073/pnas.1803543115, 2018

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2 Jul 2018

The fabled Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route that were once the quests of early Western explorers are now increasingly sea ice–free, with routine vessel transits expected by midcentury. The potential impacts of this novel vessel traffic on endemic Arctic marine mammal (AMM) species are unknown despite their critical social and ecological roles in the ecosystem and widely recognized susceptibility to ice loss. We developed a vulnerability assessment of 80 subpopulations of seven AMM species to vessel traffic during the ice-free season. Vulnerability scores were based on the combined influence of spatially explicit exposure to the sea routes and a suite of sensitivity variables. More than half of AMM subpopulations (42/80) are exposed to open-water vessel transits in the Arctic sea routes. Narwhals (Monodon monoceros) were estimated to be most vulnerable to vessel impacts, given their high exposure and sensitivity, and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were estimated to be the least vulnerable because of their low exposure and sensitivity. Regions with geographic bottlenecks, such as the Bering Strait and eastern Canadian Arctic, were characterized by two to three times higher vulnerability than more remote regions. These pinch points are obligatory pathways for both vessels and migratory AMMs, and so represent potentially high conflict areas but also opportunities for conservation-informed planning. Some of the species and regions identified as least vulnerable were also characterized by high uncertainty, highlighting additional data and monitoring needs. Our quantification of the heterogeneity of risk across AMM species provides a necessary first step toward developing best practices for maritime industries poised to advance into this rapidly changing seascape.

Indirect effects of sea ice loss on summer–fall habitat and behaviour for sympatric populations of an Arctic marine predator

Hauser, D.D.W., K.L. Laidre, H.L. Stern, R.S. Suydam, and P.R. Richard, "Indirect effects of sea ice loss on summer–fall habitat and behaviour for sympatric populations of an Arctic marine predator," Divers. Distrib., 24, 791-799, doi:10.1111/ddi.12722, 2018.

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1 Jun 2018

Climate change is fundamentally altering habitats, with complex consequences for species across the globe. The Arctic has warmed 2–3 times faster than the global average, and unprecedented sea ice loss can have multiple outcomes for ice‐associated marine predators. Our goal was to assess impacts of sea ice loss on population‐specific habitat and behaviour of a migratory Arctic cetacean.

Using satellite telemetry data collected during summer–fall from sympatric beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) populations ("Chukchi" and "Beaufort" belugas), we applied generalized estimating equations to evaluate shifts in sea ice habitat associations and diving behaviour during two periods: 1993–2002 ("early") and 2004–2012 ("late"). We used resource selection functions to assess changes in sea ice selection as well as predict trends in habitat selection and "optimal" habitat, based on satellite‐derived sea ice data from 1990 to 2014.

Sea ice cover declined substantially between periods, and Chukchi belugas specifically used significantly lower sea ice concentrations during the late than early period. Use of bathymetric features did not change between periods for either population. Population‐specific sea ice selection, predicted habitat and the amount of optimal habitat also generally did not change during 1990–2014. Chukchi belugas tracked during 2007–2012 made significantly more long‐duration and deeper dives than those tracked during 1998–2002.

Taken together, our results suggest bathymetric parameters are consistent predictors of summer–fall beluga habitat rather than selection for specific sea ice conditions during recent sea ice loss. Beluga whales were able to mediate habitat change despite their sea ice associations. However, trends towards prolonged and deeper diving possibly indicate shifting foraging opportunities associated with ecological changes that occur in concert with sea ice loss. Our results highlight that responses by some Arctic marine wildlife can be indirect and variable among populations, which could be included in predictions for the future.

Traditional knowledge about polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in East Greenland: Changes in the catch and climate over two decades

Laidre, K.L., A.D. Northey, and F. Ugarte, "Traditional knowledge about polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in East Greenland: Changes in the catch and climate over two decades," Front. Mar. Sci., 5, 135, doi:10.3389/fmars.2018.00135, 2018.

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11 May 2018

In Greenland, polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are nutritional, economic, and cultural subsistence resources for Inuit. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) collected from subsistence hunters can provide important insights and improve management decisions when collected systematically. We report on the results of a TEK survey of subsistence polar bear hunters living in the areas around Tasiilaq and Ittoqqortoormiit, East Greenland. Twenty-five full-time polar bear hunters were interviewed between December 2014 and March 2015 in a conversation-style interview, where a local interviewer fluent in the East Greenlandic dialect asked a series of 55 predetermined questions. The primary goals were to (1) gather Inuit perspectives on polar bear subsistence quotas and hunting strategies, (2) understand how climate change is affecting the polar bear subsistence hunt, and (3) document observed changes in polar bear distribution, abundance, and biology. Approximately 40% of the Tasiilaq respondents had caught between 10 and 19 polar bears in their lifetime, while 67% of Ittoqqortoormiit respondents reported lifetime catches of ≥20 bears. In both areas, polar bears were most commonly hunted between February and April. Hunters noted large changes to the climate in the areas where they hunt polar bears. Most hunters reported loss of sea ice, receding glaciers, unstable weather, and warmer temperatures. In Tasiilaq 73% of the hunters said climate changes had affected the polar bear hunt and in Ittoqqortoormiit about 88% of respondents reported the same. Hunters indicated that sea ice loss has created more areas of open water so dog sledges have become unsafe for hunting transportation compared to 10–15 years ago (reported by 100% of hunters in Tasiilaq and 80% in Ittoqqortoormiit). In Ittoqqortoormiit, the distance traveled during polar bear hunting trips has decreased dramatically. In both areas hunters noted that more polar bears are coming into their communities compared to 10–15 years ago (81% of Tasiilaq hunters and 78% of Ittoqqortoormiit hunters) and pointed to the introduction of quotas and loss of sea ice as potential reasons. This study provides an important perspective on the East Greenland subpopulation of polar bears that can be used to direct science questions and inform management.

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In The News

Ships Threaten Arctic Marine Mammals

Scientific American, Adam Aton

New research suggests that marine mammals in the Arctic could be threatened by increasing ship traffic as the region’s ice melts. Narwhals and beluga whales could be especially vulnerable because of their exposure to ships and their sensitivity to disturbances, according to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

3 Jul 2018

Study identifies which marine mammals are most at risk from increased Arctic ship traffic

UW News, Hannah Hickey

In recent decades parts of the Arctic seas have become increasingly ice-free in late summer and early fall. As sea ice is expected to continue to recede due to climate change, seasonal ship traffic from tourism and freight is projected to rise. A study from the University of Washington and the University of Alaska Fairbanks is the first to consider potential impacts on the marine mammals that use this region during fall and identify which will be most vulnerable.

2 Jul 2018

Polar scientist Kristin Laidre documents perspectives of polar bear hunters in East Greenland

UW News, Hannah Hickey

The research was motivated by the importance of obtaining local perspectives from subsistence hunters in East Greenland about the subpopulation of polar bears. Compared with results from a similar survey in the 1990s, the hunt has shifted to being conducted in boats instead of on land, and to earlier in the year.

4 Jun 2018

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