We’ve seen a lot of muskox near our camp outside of Grise Fiord, Nunavut but zero narwhals. While it’s easy to feel disappointed, I’m satisfied that we had a safe research trip. I, along with a team of scientists, animal husbandry experts and Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff, came to satellite-tag and collect samples from narwhals with the hope of learning where they travel during different times of the year.

A muskox.

A muskox.

As mentioned in my last blog post, we saw our first muskox when it made its way through our camp. It was alone, which is quite unusual because muskox generally gather in groups of five or more. Since then, there have been 14 more sightings of these formidable animals on the shore opposite our camp. They can be quite aggressive so the locals were concerned for us, but we always kept at a safe distance.

At the same time of trying to satellite-tag narwhals, Nigel Hussey of the University of Windsor has been tagging Greenland sharks and looking into whether these sharks inhabit the same waters as narwhals. In theory, Greenland sharks follow narwhals to feed on the afterbirth and dead calves, so the fact that we’ve only caught three Greenland sharks may be significant – it may be a sign that narwhals are not around either.

Next year, we’re likely to change our location of study. We had been told in the past by locals that our camp location is a place where narwhals come through – and they very well may come through in September before the sea ice starts to form – but it may be time for us to move on.

Departure day finally rolled around and we started breaking camp at 8:30 am. By 1 pm the boats arrived for loading, and then it was time to head back to the hamlet of Grise Fiord. I saw a walrus offshore while we unloaded our gear – one more animal to add to my Arctic fauna list.

From there it was off to Resolute (where we saw belugas swimming close to shore – the only whales we saw on this trip), then to Iqaluit via Arctic Bay, on to Ottawa, then west to Edmonton and finally to Vancouver. So it’s a wrap… until we do it all again next summer.

Clint Wright, Vancouver Aquarium’s senior vice president and general manager, has ventured into Canada’s Arctic for the fifth year in a row to help 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. Clint has provided regular updates on the research progress. This is his third and final blog post of this series.

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