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ENVIRONMENT

Melting Arctic ice draws killer whales further north into Norwegian waters

Orcas found further north in Norwegian waters and elsewhere may be a sign of global warming changing the hunting grounds of killer whales.

Pictured is a killer whale.
The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. Pictured is a killer whale. Photo by Olivier Morin/ AFP

In the pale winter darkness of northern Norway, a huge flock of seagulls circles above an Arctic fjord, signifying the presence of a group of unusual predators in the water below.

With Arctic sea ice shrinking at record levels due to global warming, killer whales are expanding their hunting grounds further north and spending more time in polar waters, US scientists say.

But the giant mammals, also known as orcas and which are at the top of the food chain, risk creating an “ecological imbalance” in the Arctic by preying on endangered species, warned a University of Washington study this month.

When AFP visited the vast Skjervoy fjord in the Arctic Ocean, 70 to 80 killer whales could be seen gathering in family clans of about 10, including calves under a year old.

Increasingly frequent and northerly sightings suggest that the iconic black and white member of the dolphin family, whose males can grow up to eight metres (26 feet) long and weigh six tonnes, is learning to adapt to the newly melted waters of the Arctic Ocean.

“Through acoustic surveys, we have detected orcas in the Barents Sea in November between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, so they are clearly following the edge of the ice,” Marie-Anne Blanchet of the Norwegian Polar Institute told AFP.

READ ALSO: Climate change may have altered the diet of Norwegian polar bears

The killer whale, which with a global population estimated at 50,000 is found in almost all of the world’s seas, feeds on Arctic prey such as the beluga whale and, most likely, some species of seal, the specialist said.

Conflict with humans

The whales’ changing migration patterns are also linked to the fact that their food of choice, herring, is also moving further north, for reasons that are still unclear.

“They are predators with a great capacity to adapt, so they are opportunistic,” Blanchet said.

The new hunting grounds are also leading to unprecedented conflict with humans.

In the waters off Greenland’s capital Nuuk, four orcas, considered an unwelcome competitor by local fishermen and hunters, were killed at the end of November, an act permissible under Greenlandic law.

A University of Washington study presented at the beginning of December found that the increased migration of super predators is a consequence of the increasingly long season when the Arctic Ocean is free of ice.

“It’s not necessarily that killer whales haven’t been reported in these areas before, but that they appear to be remaining in the area for longer periods of time,” co-author Brynn Kimber wrote.

The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet, impacting the extent of the ice pack and the ecosystems that depend on it. Arctic sea ice, which is also getting thinner, has shrunk on average by more than 13 percent per decade over the past 40 years.

By the end of the summer of 2012, it had reached its lowest level on record, at 3.4 million square kilometres (1.4 million square miles), almost half the size it was during the 1980s.

Analysing eight years of acoustic readings, Kimber’s team also detected killer whales in the Chukchi Sea between Alaska and Russia during the months when it used to be frozen, as well as with greater frequency during the summer.

The study warned that the hunter, which also chases after prey in packs, is increasingly attacking the endangered bowhead whale, a species left exposed by the retreating ice pack.

These attacks are “likely to increase due to longer open water seasons,” the researchers said.

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TECH

What you need to know about the EU’s plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Union has approved a new regulation that would force tech companies to use a standard charger for mobile phones and electronic devices. What does this mean?

What you need to know about the EU's plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Parliament has approved an agreement establishing a single charging solution for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. The law will make it mandatory for specific devices that are rechargeable via a wired cable to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

The rules have been debated for a while, and the announcement of the agreement has caused controversy, especially among tech companies and enthusiasts. US giant Apple has repeatedly lobbied against the standardisation, saying it halts innovation.

The EU says that the new rules will lead to more re-use of chargers and “help consumers save up to €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, the bloc says.

So, what exactly are the changes?

Which products will be affected?

According to the European Parliament, the new rules are valid for small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

Laptops will also have to be adapted, the EU says.

Those devices will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port regardless of their manufacturer.

When will the changes come?

For most devices, the changes are set to come by autumn of 2024. However, the date is not yet set because the regulations need to go to other proceedings within the EU bureaucracy.

After the summer recess, The EU’s Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before publication in the EU Official Journal. It enters into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions start to apply after 24 months, hence the “autumn 2024” expectation.

Rules for laptops are a bit different, and manufacturers will have to adapt their products to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force of the laws.

Where are the rules valid?

The rules will be valid for products sold or produced in the European Union and its 27 member countries. But, of course, they will likely affect manufacturers and promote more considerable scale changes.

The USB-C cable, with the rounded edges, will be the standard for charging in the EU (Photo by مشعال بن الذاهد on Unsplash)

Why the uniform USB Type-C?

The bloc said the uniform charger is part of a broader EU effort to make products more sustainable, reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.

“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device”, EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said.

USB Type-C is a standard of charging that has been around for a while but still is one of the best options currently in the market. Also known as USB-C, it allows for reliable, inexpensive, and fast charging. A USB-C port can also be input or output, meaning that it can both send and receive charges and data.

Unlike other ports, it can be the same on both ends of the wire (making it easier and more universal in its use). It can also power devices and sends data much faster.

USB-C can also be used for video and audio connections, so some external monitors can charge your laptop and show your screen simultaneously with the same cable.

What criticism is there?

The project is not without criticism, most vocally from US tech giant Apple, a company that famously has its own charging standard, the “lightning” connection.

Apple claims that forcing a standardisation will prevent innovation, holding all companies to the same technology instead of allowing for experimentation. Still, Apple itself has been swapping to USB-C. Its iPads have already dropped the lightning standard. Its newer laptops can now be charged with the MagSafe proprietary connector and USB-C.

Apple iPhones are still charged with the company’s lightning ports – or wirelessly (Photo by Brandon Romanchuk on Unsplash)

The company’s popular earbuds and peripherals (including keyboards and mice) all charge with lightning. And, of course, the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone, also uses the company’s connection for charging.

While there have been rumours that Apple is working on new iPhones with USB-C connection (though definitely not for the next launch this year’s), the company could go away with wired charging altogether. Instead, like many tech manufacturers, Apple is improving its wireless charging solutions, even creating products dedicated to its MagSafe charging.

It won’t be completely free from the EU regulation if it does that, though. This is because the rules approved by the EU also allow the European Commission to develop so-called “delegated acts” concerning wireless charging. The delegated acts are faster processes that can be applied directly without being put to the vote.

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