Published: June 27, 2021


The endemic species of marine mammals that live in the Arctic year-round have been increasingly threatened by melting Arctic sea ice over the past several decades. Reduction in sea ice has led to increases in multiple commercial Arctic shipping routes, such as the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. This paper systematically reviews peer-reviewed literature to assess the impacts of melting sea ice and increased use of Arctic shipping routes on key species of Arctic marine mammals. Further, I also discuss several proposed solutions to mitigate the negative effects of these issues. I find that the most highly documented impacts of commercial shipping activity are noise pollution, oil spills, and ship strikes. Harmful effects of these activities include behavioral change, in which mammals alter their feeding, breeding, and pupping behaviors due to the presence of commercial ships, toxicological effects from ingestion of pollutants, and mortality. Multiple shipping regulations have been proposed, including altering vessel routes and reduction of ship speeds, but many studies do not analyze the potential effects of these regulations and therefore fall short of providing adequate and descriptive policy suggestions. Even though 65% of papers discuss shipping regulation in some form, only 58% propose future regulations, and 46% evaluate the effect of that regulation. While climate change is frequently mentioned in papers considering Arctic shipping, climate policy is especially neglected. This literature review reveals crucial gaps in the current body of knowledge, both in animal and ship monitoring data and policy effectiveness, and highlights important areas for future research to inform policymaking in light of climate change. Modifying and creating new policies for the mitigation of harmful shipping impacts is important for the protection of Arctic marine mammals as climate change continues to worsen.