This month, Clint Wright, Vancouver Aquarium’s senior vice president and general manager, is venturing into Canada’s Arctic to conduct research on narwhals, which make up a vital part of the Arctic ecosystem. Keeping track of their population size and understanding migration patterns are important in making sure their populations stay healthy. He will be providing regular updates on his research – this is the second blog post.
I never get tired of watching narwhals in Tremblay Sound, Nunavut. Although this is my third year up here, it’s still exciting to see them as they swim past. Already, I’ve seen males tusking, playing and rubbing against each other. Mothers and calves have also swum by, with the young ones rolling in the water as they pass.
Narwhals are like belugas in the calls that they make, and I can hear them even when I’m not right at the water’s edge. In fact, I can hear them all the way down the inlet, as if they are announcing their presence before swimming by our research camp. They can become quite noisy at the surface, and they make all sorts of different sounds – the males even sound like trumpets sometimes.
Although we’ve seen (and heard) literally hundreds of whales swimming past, we have only managed to catch one in our research net today ‒ a male about 11.5 feet long with a small tusk. We tagged him with a satellite transmitter, and took blood and blowhole samples to help with research that will provide more details on how they live and where they travel throughout the year.
It’s pretty blustery right now, with the icy rain falling, so the biggest challenge right now is keeping my dry suit dry in between bouts in the water with the narwhals. There’s nothing worse than that wet, clammy feeling of putting on neoprene that has been exposed to the elements.
We’ve got a week left in Tremblay Sound, and our goal is to tag another eight narwhals for a total of 10. So far, we’ve caught only one narwhal at a time in our nets, although in the past we have found two and even three narwhals at the same time. Maybe we’ll have that sort of a day tomorrow.