Ocean Wise® Scientists Conduct Critical Research in a Melting Canadian Arctic

Canadian Arctic — This month, Ocean Wise scientists are diving in the crystal-clear, icy waters of the Arctic to document the marine life below the surface of this rapidly changing ecosystem. This marks the third year surveying nearshore marine life at locations around Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, using the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) as a base of operations, but for 2017, the project has an added aspect intended to celebrate our natural heritage and ensure a brighter future for wildlife. On Friday, Aug. 25, the team’s dive will be among those counted for BioBlitz Canada 150, a cross-Canada project to collect data on species discovered from sea to sea to sea, and to create Canada’s “nature selfie.”

“The Arctic is changing at an incredible rate,” said Eric Solomon, director of Arctic Programs for Ocean Wise. “The entire region regularly has record-low monthly sea ice conditions, and Arctic air temperatures continue to increase at double the rate of the global temperature increase. It’s the impact of these changes on the ecosystem, wildlife, and communities that we’re working to understand.”

The Arctic Marine Ecology Benchmarking project, led by Ocean Wise, documents different marine life and habitats in nearshore ecosystems, assist with CHARS future planning, and provide baseline data for the conservation and effective management of Canada’s Arctic environment. The project began in 2015, in collaboration with Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the federal agency responsible for advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and for strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology.

The marine life survey is just one of many projects undertaken in the Arctic by Ocean Wise scientists this month. With only a short window of time to gather data, multiple teams are spending their summer in the region for continued research on fragile ecosystems and little-known species. Studies underway include the distribution of microplastics in Arctic waters, to tag and track narwhals, to do an underwater survey of Arctic marine species, to monitor communication between mother beluga whales and their calves, and to record cetacean sightings.

The Arctic research projects undertaken by Ocean Wise scientists this summer include:

  • Beluga communication: studies of biologically critical “contact calls” used in vocal exchanges between mothers and calves as indicators of behaviour, group composition and underwater noise disturbance in the Churchill River Estuary.
  • Arctic Marine Ecology Benchmarking, in partnership with Polar Knowledge Canada. Two teams of Vancouver Aquarium divers are updating a dynamic catalogue of sites that can be referenced by future researchers; and provide a set of data to which future surveys can be compared. The dive teams will be in the Arctic until Sept. 1, visiting a range of dive sites near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and hosting community events along with Polar.
  • Narwhal Satellite Tagging: Marine mammal experts from Vancouver Aquarium lend their expertise to Ecosystem Approach Tremblay, a multi-year project with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which is primarily focused on tagging narwhals. Part of a long-term strategy to understand this unique species, the tags allow scientists to follow the movements of the narwhals during their annual feeding and reproductive routines.
  • Arctic Microplastics: Our oceans are increasingly threatened by plastic debris, much of it composed of tiny particles, barely visible to the naked eye. Ocean Wise scientists have found microplastics in high concentrations off the coast of British Columbia, and discovered they are making their way into the food chain. This pan-Arctic microplastics study — conducted onboard several Arctic expeditions throughout the summer — will include seawater sampling, vertical plankton tows, and sediment sampling.
  • Physical oceanography: Physical factors like temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen contribute to a set of basic environmental requirements for marine species. Scientists on board a One Ocean expedition from Aug. 24 – Sept. 6 will be using specialized equipment to measure these factors at locations along the way. The data will help researchers at the DFO Institute of Ocean Sciences better understand these important oceanographic factors and how they are changing over time.
  • Ikaarvik: Barriers to Bridges engages Arctic communities in research using youth as the bridge between science and their communities. The program builds capacity among Arctic youth and their communities to engage meaningfully in research that addresses local concerns. This summer, Ikaarvik youth are: learning to collect samples for baseline species and invasive species monitoring; helping to identify water quality-related concerns in order to develop a community-based monitoring program for the Coppermine River; leading the development and installation of a solar panel array; and working with their communities to identify sea ice-related issues.

Ocean Wise scientists are blogging from the Arctic as they carry out these research projects. Follow along at Aquablog.ca.

Ocean Wise is a global ocean conservation organization focused on protecting and restoring our world’s oceans. Building on the roots of the Vancouver Aquarium, which started as a community-based not-for-profit organization, Ocean Wise aims to inspire people in every corner of the planet to participate in creating healthy oceans. The transformation is a natural evolution of Vancouver Aquarium’s 61 years of conservation research, education and engagement, extending its world-renowned leadership to Ocean Wise, and committing its positive impact to other parts of the world.

Ocean Wise®

Ocean Wise is a not-for-profit organization whose vision is a world in which oceans are healthy and flourishing. www.ocean.org

Polar Knowledge Canada

POLAR consists of a pan-northern science and technology program, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station being built in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and a knowledge management and mobilization function. www.canada.ca/en/polar-knowledge

BioBlitz Canada 150

To mark Canada’s 150th Anniversary, BioBlitz Canada 150 will bring together the Canadian public with scientists to explore the richness of Canada’s biodiversity and to engage our passion to know, celebrate and conserve our natural heritage. www.bioblitzcanada.ca

Media Contact

April Penney
Ocean Wise