Narwhal sightings have been sporadic, and to date, none have been tagged; however, narwhals are not the only species that have been the subject of our attention.
Greenland sharks are very large, slow moving predators that live in the very cold, barren, dark depths of the Arctic seas. Little is known about their natural history, and a shark biologist with our team is trying to find out where they go by attaching tracking devices to them. Of course, before you can do that you have to get close.
Over the course of the last week, baited lines have been left on the fiord floor in the hope of catching them with the purpose of collecting data, then releasing them. Yesterday, we took two inflatable zodiacs out to the floats marking the location of the anchored, baited line. Earlier in the week, two sharks had already been caught, and so hopes were high that we might get lucky and catch one more. As I peered over the edge of the rubber pontoon, slowly rotating forms began to emerge from the depths – we had two very large sharks.
As it turned out, we had a large male, about three metres long, and a slightly larger female. They were held alongside the boats to remove the hooks and start the data collection. The animals did not struggle at the surface and remained almost motionless through the entire procedure, their mouths opening and closing gently as water passed through their softly billowing gill slits. Their eyes were ghostly, relatively large and opaque, staring but unseeing.
At the end of the procedure the animals swam off in no apparent hurry, very slowly gliding out of sight with their tracking devices that will hopefully send data back to us over a long period of time, telling us what they get up to and where they go – maybe even if they will stay together.
Clint 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 seventh blog post of this series.