We’re used to the concept of home as a place; it’s where our food is, our shelter, where we start and raise our families. We sometimes think of animals that migrate as having two homes: one for summer and one for winter. But it’s more accurate to consider migrating species as having one very large home.
In my home, when I’m hungry, I get off the couch and walk down the hall to the kitchen to find some food. I may stop into the nursery to check on the baby, and then head to the living room to rest by the fire. A Gray whale, on the other hand, may need to swim thousands of kilometres to get from the “nursery” in Mexico to the “kitchen” north of Alaska. Both areas and the passage in-between are critical parts of the whales’ home.
Migration defines many of the patterns of life in Canada’s Arctic. Many bird species spend summers in the North and move south as winter approaches; whales move north as ice retreats in the summer, and while not as well understood, some fish species also move north-south during the year. Other species, such as narwhals, belugas, caribou and polar bears migrate seasonally within the North.
In December of 2010, the federal government announced proposed boundaries for a National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) in Lancaster Sound—one of the Canadian Arctic’s most critical “hallways” for narwhals as they pass from their winter feeding grounds to their summer calving grounds and back again.
Narwhals swim over 1,500 kilometres to get from their kitchen to their nursery. Lancaster Sound lies between the two.
At the entrance to the Northwest Passage, Lancaster Sound is one of the richest areas of life in the Arctic. Roughly 85% of the world’s narwhal population (estimated at around 80,000) pass through Lancaster Sound during their migrations east and west, as do countless other mammals, birds and fish species. This diversity of wildlife is also of critical importance for the communities that rely on it for food and clothing.
We’ll be hearing more about Lancaster Sound as the NMCA process progresses. In the mean time, we have an opportunity experience Lancaster Sound and the narwhal migration, at least virtually, this month. The Pew Environment Group’s Oceans North Canada is leading an Arctic science expedition across the North Water Polynya and into Lancaster Sound. They’ll be joining and counting the narwhals and other whales as they enter the Sound through the receding ice pack, and will be blogging, tweeting and on Facebook every step of the way. It should be a great way for the rest of us to get to know a bit more about this important migratory pathway between the narwhals’ kitchen and nursery.
You can get all the details right here.
We’re looking forward to following along.