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 his fourth blog post.

After the horrendous weather I last reported, I’m pleased to share that we enjoyed relatively good weather over the weekend. The skies were blue and it was sunny ‒ but we still experienced strong winds from the north.

On Friday, we managed to tag another narwhal with a satellite transmitter. This transmitter will allow researchers to gather information on where narwhals go throughout the year as the seasons change.

By 7 p.m. that evening, we were joined in the Tremblay Sound area by a dozen boats and a number of tourists. They set up their tents on a point between us and the hunters that arrived last week. As you may recall, I heard gunshots on the night of their arrival, and now they have set up nets as well to catch narwhals for food (many locals rely on Arctic animals for nourishment, as packaged food from the south can be scarce). The hunters’ nets are actually similar to our research nets.

We were woken up early on Saturday morning, at about 4:15 a.m., by the duo on watch because a narwhal was in one of our nets. We raced to put on our dry suits and we zipped out onto the water in the zodiac. There we saw a large male 4.4 metres long ‒ big and feisty. He was pretty difficult to control while we were attaching the satellite transmitter on him, and at one point he swung his tail around. That being said, we did what we needed to do and had him back in the open water within half an hour.

In between whales, there has been quite a lot of action around here. A gill net was set up to catch Arctic char and over 14 of them were caught (one was close to 14 kilograms). Soon after that, a polar bear was seen 10 metres offshore, right by the tents. It started swimming out and eventually approached a net that we had set up. The adult female turned back to her cubs, as if telling them to wait, and then eventually called for them to follow. Aside from these animals, there was also a seemingly bold Arctic fox that made his way through our camp looking for scraps to eat.

The latest narwhal that we tagged was a small female ‒ she’s the fifth to be tagged on this research trip. We still have quite a few to tag so I’m hoping that the strong wind we’re experiencing now will die down. It’s not much fun being in the water when the waves are slapping you around and the wind is toppling you over.

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