© Eric Ste-Marie

New research into narwhals, polar bears and caribou

10 August 2018

Polar bear The Last Ice Area Canada Reindeer & Caribou Walrus Narwhal Bowhead whale Beluga Wildlife

WWF biologists are now at Narwhal Camp in Canada’s Far North alongside Fisheries and Oceans Canada researchers and other partners, as field work for this and other research projects supported by WWF-Canada’s Arctic Species Conservation Fund (ASCF) gets underway.

Narwhal Camp has researchers using underwater recording devices, drones and tagging technology to learn more about the little-understood narwhal, 90 per cent of which spend their summers in Canadian waters. Other projects are mapping known polar bear denning areas, measuring the effects of climate change and other disturbances on barren-ground caribou and monitoring underwater noise to track the impacts on marine mammals.

Research by this year’s recipients will build knowledge on Arctic wildlife, including beluga whales, bowhead whales, narwhals, barren-ground caribou, polar bears and walruses.

Brandon Laforest, WWF-Canada senior specialist, Arctic species and ecosystems, says:
“There is still so much we don’t know about Arctic wildlife, and the threats they face from the changing climate and increased industrial development. The information gathered through projects supported by the Arctic Species Conservation Fund helps inform decisions that safeguard the future of Arctic wildlife. Through the fund, we are proud to support a wide variety of community-based initiatives as well as scientific studies across the Canadian Arctic.”

The 2018-2019 projects supported by the ASCF include:

Assessing the impacts of ship noise on marine mammals in the western Arctic

The research team will focus on identifying the sources and patterns of underwater noise in the western Canadian Arctic, cross-referenced with locations of marine mammals obtained through hydrophones.
Project partners: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, University of Victoria, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Narwhal Camp: Observing patterns of behaviour in a narwhal nursery

In addition to continued tagging efforts to track narwhal, researchers will use drones and hydrophones to observe the behaviour of narwhals in their summer habitat in Tremblay Sound. (Formally known as the Ecosystem Approach to Tremblay Sound.)
Project partners: Pond Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization, Vancouver Aquarium, University of Windsor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Identifying critical habitat for narwhal calving

This work will use archived aerial imagery to estimate areas important to narwhal calves and mothers.
Project partners: LGL Environmental Consultants Ltd. and Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Monitoring marine mammal noise in one of Canada’s busiest Arctic shipping corridors

Underwater listening devices will be positioned in Eclipse Sound off of northern Baffin Island to record the locations of important marine mammal species relative to passing ships.
Project partners: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Oceans North, Environment and Climate Change Canada

Identifying known polar bear denning areas in Canada and predicting unknown areas of importance

This project will map all known polar bear denning sites across Canada and develop a model to predict denning habitat for areas that have not yet been surveyed.
Project partners: Assiniboine Park Zoo, Government of Manitoba

Tracking problem polar bears to increase safety for communities and bears

The project will examine the movements of polar bears to better understand what types of bears are prone to conflict with northern communities. This work will inform planning to minimize human-polar bear conflict.
Project partners: University of Alberta, Government of Manitoba, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Government of Nunavut

Re-estimating the Davis Strait polar bear subpopulation

Communities of this region have seen high levels of human-polar bear conflict this year. This work will result in an estimate of abundance to compare with previous surveys to see if polar bear numbers for this subpopulation have increased or if bears are spending more time on land in search of food.
Project partners: Government of Nunavut, Iqaluit Hunters and Trappers Organization, Kimmirut Hunters and Trappers Organization, Pangnirtung Hunters and Trappers Organization, Makivik Corporation, Parks Canada, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunatsiavut Government, Quebec Government, Utah State University

Examining the impact of a changing Arctic on the southernmost polar bear subpopulations

Researchers will study polar bears at the southern end of their range to determine how two polar bear subpopulations are shifting in relation to sea ice loss.
Project partners: York University, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Environment and Climate Change Canada

Building a tool to measure the combined effects of multiple stressors on caribou herds

Barren-ground caribou are at risk from the effects of a changing climate, increased human presence and disturbance from mine development sites. Too often these stresses are considered individually, but not cumulatively. The research team will develop a modelling tool that takes multiple stressors into account.
Project partners: Apex Resource Management Solutions, Shadow Lake Environmental Consulting, Government of the Northwest Territories

Creating a video to help explain caribou survey methods

The technical nature of aerial surveys can make it difficult for non-scientists to understand how population estimates are obtained. This video intends to create greater confidence in the validity of the surveys and ultimately more support for decisions to safeguard herds.
Project partners: Umingmak Productions, Government of the Northwest Territories

Assessing caribou response to mines through activity, movements and feces

This research aims to quantify the effect of mining infrastructure on barren-ground caribou. The team will observe the behaviour of the caribou, monitor their stress levels through an analysis of feces and track the movement of animals.
Project partners: Government of the Northwest Territories, University of Northern British Columbia, Circumpolar Arctic Rangifer Monitoring and Assessment Network

Kitikmeot caribou Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit mapping

The Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board will develop a Traditional Ecological Knowledge database for barren-ground caribou in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut. The goal is to increase community involvement in decision-making processes.
Project partners: Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board, Cambridge Bay Hunters and Trappers Organization, Kugluktuk Hunters and Trappers Organization, Trailmark Systems

Tuktuliriniup Mikhaanut Tukihivaalirniq: Working to better understand caribou harvesting and use

The community of Arviat will develop a local harvest-monitoring program. The program will also ensure teachings from elders are preserved and develop educational materials for the community based on Traditional Ecological Knowledge of barren-ground caribou.
Project partners: Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization, Beverly Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, Arviat Film Society, Government of Nunavut

Deninu Kue First Nation Traditional Knowledge of cumulative impacts on barren-ground caribou

The project team will create a database of Deninu Kue First Nation Traditional Knowledge resources related to barren-ground caribou and share the resulting insights with decision-makers as appropriate to help safeguard caribou.
Project partners: Deninu Kue First Nation, LGL Environmental Consultants Ltd, Trailmark Systems

About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.

For further information
Stephanie Normandin, communications specialist
snormandin@wwfcanada.org, +1 514-891-2275