A veterinarian from the zoo in the Far North for a beluga's study

Scientists and community members from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region worked together this summer to tag beluga whales in the Mackenzie Delta, NWT, to learn more about the Beaufort Sea beluga whale population. Telemetry data is being used to better understand how these charismatic whales use and navigate through their ecosystem. In the first year of this 2-year project, a total of 14 belugas were equipped with satellite tags that can gather a lot of information such as precise locations and oceanographic data. This information will be used to assist in an aerial survey plan for a population census scheduled next year, the first since 1992! Above all, the project supports a continuous monitoring of the health of this arctic ecosystem and will support its protection in a changing climate where anthropogenic activities such as shipping and development are expected to increase.

Release of a male beluga (4.7 m long!) following the transmitter placement

This project is supported by the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the regional co-management boards (Inuvialuit Game Council, Fisheries Joint Management Committee) and the local communities. Émilie L. Couture, a veterinarian here at the zoo and collaborator of the Canadian wildlife health center was amongst the experts completing the scientific team of the project. Her role was to supervise the animal health portion of the project, including the health assessment of the captured whales and measuring the physiologic impact of the capture and tag apposition process. She was assisted with this task by Benjamin Lamglait, a resident in zoological medicine from the Université de Montréal that took the relay for the second portion of the field work.

An overlook of the arctic research camp in the Mackenzie Delta

This collaboration is an excellent example of teamwork, including the combination of science and indigenous traditional knowledge for the good of conservation. This teamwork continues, as the information gathered with the tagged whales is being regularly shared through community members on social media. You can also access these updates on the tagged whales and other interesting information by joining the group ‘Beaufort Sea Beluga’.