Our planet is undergoing changes at unprecedented speeds, and nowhere are those changes more evident than in the Arctic. We are in a race to learn about the Arctic as it is now so we can better understand the changes that are so rapidly occurring. Documenting the marine species living in the region is a first step toward understanding the diversity of life underwater.

Arctic Research, Vancouver Aquarium

Eric collecting data on salinity, temperature, oxygen and productivity.

I’m in the Arctic community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut with a team of four Vancouver Aquarium scuba divers and biologists. The goal is to find, collect and photograph Arctic species of fish and invertebrates (anemones, seastars and other animals without a backbone). Given the remote location and the expertise needed, very few people have dove in these freezing Arctic waters and as such the marine life below remains largely unexplored. Each species of fish and invertebrates found will be photographed and recorded with location and depth information. As our divers will be seeing some of these animals for the first time, much of the actual species identification will need to occur back at the Vancouver Aquarium over the weeks to come.

Diving in the Arctic

Mackenzie Neal and Takuji Oyama are loaded up with collecting gear.

Each diver carries additional 50 pounds of weight once all their gear is on. Even mid-summer the air temperature is hovering around one to six degrees celcius and the water temperature near the bottom yesterday was a balmy minus one degrees celcius. This probably explains why I’m just writing about diving in the Arctic while others are actually doing it.

Diversity of Arctic Marine Life

People are often surprised by how much life there is under the surface in the Arctic. Photo Credit: Danny Kent.

Tak and Mackenzie unload a cooler of animals from the boat. The animals will eventually be placed in bags of seawater. The bags will be saturated with pure oxygen to ensure there’s plenty available for the two day trip back to Vancouver.

Arctic Research and Marine Life

Bringing back samples of marine life for photo identification and further research.

The dive team was excited to find two lumpsucker fish. The aptly-named lumpsucker looks like a lump and has a sucker disc on its underside that it uses to attach to rocks. The Aquarium currently has Pacific spiny lumpsuckers on display in the Stanely Park Shores Exhibit.

Arctic Lumpsuckers

Studying lumpsuckers in the Arctic.

It has been a successful trip so far. I head for Gjoa Haven next to work with youth participating in our Ikaarvik program. The dive team will head for home tomorrow with a number of new fish and invertebrates to identify, record and study. In the coming months, you may see some of these Arctic invertebrates in the Vancouver Aquarium’s Canada’s Arctic exhibit.

Blog post submitted by Eric Solomon, Director of Arctic Programs for the Vancouver Aquarium. Eric is working on building relationships with scientists and the local community to help protect Canada’s fragile Arctic environment. 

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