We have made it to Starnes Fiord, just east of Grise Fiord, after transporting three truckloads of gear and food on five aluminum boats and two inflatable zodiacs. There was a slight swell, but the sea remained calm and we all made good time; the journey took about an hour.

Camp landings are always a busy affair. One team offloads all the gear and assembles it into piles of loosely related items, another team builds a wooden floor for both the communal-food tent and the research tent, personal tents are erected and then, finally, the canopy and framework of the large tents are put in place.

Narwhal research in the Arctic with Vancouver Aquarium

Many hands make light work at the field research camp.

By the time all the tasks were finished it was close to 4 a.m. and time to crash. But not everyone could head to bed immediately as there was still the small matter of the 24 hour polar bear watch. I volunteered to stay up while the others rested. With 24 hours of daylight, visibility was still good, and the shotgun loaded with “cracker” shells was reassuringly in reach. As the camp became very quiet, I boiled the kettle on the outdoor propane stove, prepared some tea and raided one of the coolers for some cheese and homemade bread. It tasted great as I sat and looked out over the glassy, calm waters.

At about 5:30 a.m., I noticed some splashing close to shore, which at first I took to be harp seals; however, it became quickly apparent the we had approaching narwhals. I trotted down to the water’s edge for a closer look as a small pod of about 10 to 15 narwhals, females with calves, swam steadily and purposefully by some 100 metres offshore.  This was more whales than I had seen in the previous two seasons.  They soon sank and entered a long dive that saw them disappear. 20 minutes later, a group of about 30 to 50 narwhals sporting long tusks, likely males, barely broke the surface as they sped stealthily by.

I reported the sightings to my excited camp mates when the first of them awoke and then crashed myself in my tent at about 9 a.m. That was a couple of days ago, and we haven’t seen any more narwhals since then. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for more sightings.

resize thumbnail clint head shotClint Wright, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre’s senior vice president and general manager, has ventured into Canada’s Arctic for the sixth year in a row 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. Clint joins a team of experts led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. He will be providing regular updates on his research. This is his third blog post of this series.

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