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Arctic passageways let species mingle

Melting ice is opening route for Pacific and Atlantic creatures to invade each other’s waters

By
4:00pm, January 4, 2016
northern gannets

WRONG OCEAN Northern gannets are just one of the species with a stray individual or more suspected of journeying through the melting Arctic to new territory.

One whale spotted in the wrong ocean seemed merely odd. But a second misplaced whale looked more like a sign of an ecological shake-up: Pacific Ocean fauna moving into the Atlantic Ocean and vice versa. As the Arctic’s icy barriers melt, new waterways may soon allow many formerly separated animals to move and mix.

“We do believe we’re seeing a faunal exchange,” says Seabird McKeon of the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Species moving from one ocean might disrupt life in the other — competing with some longtime residents, preying on others — or maybe change hardly anything. “We just do not know what’s going to happen,” McKeon says.

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