The Food Web of the Arctic Ocean

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  • 0:00 The Arctic Ocean
  • 0:41 What is a Food Web?
  • 1:48 Arctic Environment and…
  • 3:15 Dangers to the Arctic Ocean
  • 3:53 What Can We Do?
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson is on the food web of the Arctic Ocean. In this lesson, we'll go over what a food web is and what type of organisms live in the Arctic Ocean. Then, we'll learn what the specific web for the Arctic Ocean looks like.

The Arctic Ocean

As you sail over the Arctic Ocean, your boat smashes through thick layers of sea ice. You brace the sides with your thick-gloved hands to protect you from falling overboard. Looking out over the ocean, you see beautiful wildlife you never thought possible in an environment that goes well below freezing. Whales splash against the surface and seals play on the ice. The pack of seals scatters as two hungry polar bears prowl the snow. This gorgeous scene is the Arctic Ocean. Today, we'll learn all about these unique species and how they survive here, feeding on plant life and each other.

What is a Food Web?

To get started understanding this ecosystem, we need to know what a food web is. A food web shows the transfer of energy between species in an ecosystem. Energy is transferred as food, so a food web basically shows you who eats whom. It's more complex than a food chain, which shows the transfer of energy between only one species and the next. A food web is more of a giant net, showing how dozens of species interact.

Food webs and food chains are organized into trophic levels. The bottom trophic level contains the producers. Producers are that species make their own food and are the base of the food web, providing energy for all other species. Usually producers are plants, but some bacteria also make their own food and act as producers. Primary consumers eat producers, making them herbivores, or vegetarians. Secondary consumers are carnivores but only eat primary consumers. Tertiary consumers are top predators and eat both primary and secondary consumers, keeping the food web in balance.

Arctic Environment and Food Web

The Arctic Ocean covers the northernmost part of the globe. Frigid waters are coated in a thick layer of sea ice. Despite temperatures below -50 degrees Fahrenheit, the Arctic is home to many forms of life. Polar bears and seals dot the surface of the ice, with even more animals swimming below.

All food webs start with producers, and the producers in the Arctic Ocean are called phytoplankton. These microscopic organisms inhabit our oceans by the millions, forming a strong base for the marine food web. Zooplankton are also microscopic organisms, but these feed on the phytoplankton. Remember, a zoo holds animals that eat plants, so zooplankton eat the plants, the phytoplankton.

Many species of small fish and crustaceans eat the zooplankton. Surprisingly, gigantic whales also eat massive amounts of zooplankton to survive. Larger fish, such as the Arctic char, eat the smaller, primary consumers. Seals and carnivorous whales, like the narwhal, also eat the small fish. The top predators in the Arctic food web are the orca whale and the polar bear.

Although the polar bear lives on land, it's an avid swimmer. Polar bears prefer seals, but will also eat fish, baby walruses, and even whales. Orca whales are also tertiary consumers. They mainly eat fish, but will take down seals and even other whales.

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