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 third blog post.

After a couple of successful days tagging narwhals, we were forced to take a break when a strong easterly wind blew into our camp. It brought on icy rain, and whitecaps started to form on the water. A decision was made to pull the narwhal nets in, as it would be too rough and unsafe for the crew to tow any whales onto shore. It turned out to be a good decision because by that evening an Arctic storm pounded relentlessly upon us.

All we could do is secure any loose objects, hunker down and hope we didn’t lose any gear. We didn’t lose anything ‒ but the howling gale did rip one of our tents.

Guess who was on polar bear patrol that night? Yes, yours truly. The wind was so strong that it was almost impossible to stand up straight. The driving rain made it a pretty miserable night, and it went on like this until the storm finally blew out at 5:30 a.m. The team woke up to find snow on the escarpment behind the camp about 300 metres up.

We put the nets up later that morning, and almost immediately started seeing narwhals make their way through Tremblay Sound ‒ hundreds of them. But they managed to avoid the nets so we weren’t able to tag any with satellite transmitters. We took this opportunity, though, to put hydrophones in the water to record narwhal sounds. Like beluga whales, they are very vocal animals.

A scientist on our crew also had a chance to analyze a temporary tag that had fallen off the male we caught a couple of days ago. This suction cup tag collects valuable data about where the animal moves within the first few hours after they’re tagged.

That night, six boats full of hunters made their way over to where we are. Since food from the south can be scarce, many locals rely on “country foods” for nourishment. The gunshots started at about 11:30 p.m. They went off for an hour, and I counted about 22 shots. Summer days are long in the Arctic, so it doesn’t get completely dark at night. That being said, the sky was somewhat murky so I couldn’t really see what was going on.

We haven’t seen any whales since then, nor heard them on the hydrophone. After last night’s activity it’s hard to tell when they’ll start swimming through the sound again.

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