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Racing To Unlock The Mysteries Of The Arctic

Credit: NASA
Credit: Kristin Westdal
Credit: P Richard

Life On The Ocean Floor

Until recently, much of the Arctic Ocean floor was uncharted. We still know very little about it.  Researchers, such as Dr. Kathy Conlan from the Canadian Museum of Nature, study animals living at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. She takes samples from different areas of the ocean floor and identifies animals that live in the mud, sand and silt. Knowing what lives in the ocean floor now lets us keep track of changes, as well as lets us track recovery after disturbances such as oil drilling. It also gives us clues on how climate change might affect larger creatures, such as bowhead whales, that feed on bottom-dwelling animals.

Boldly Going To
Inhospitable Places

Part icebreaker, part research vessel, the CCGS (Canadian Coast Guard Ship) Amundsen takes scientists to one of the most remote, inhospitable parts of the world. Researchers rely on the CCGS Amundsen to help them shed light on an important and rapidly changing environment. This floating lab grants them access to the remote, inhospitable corners of the Arctic while providing them with safety, comfort and critically important research equipment.

Revealing The
Mysteries Of Sharks

Rivaling the great white shark in size, the Greenland shark is the biggest fish in the Arctic and the most mysterious. We don’t know its population size or how often it mates, or their age and how they hunt.

Dr. Aaron Fisk and his team of researchers at the University of Windsor want to understand how the Greenland shark fits into the Arctic ecosystem and how climate change will affect it. One of the ways they’re doing this is by collecting muscle tissue samples from Greenland sharks and their potential prey. Sorting the fatty acids in the sample gives them clues on what they eat, such as halibut.

Counting Rings In Ear Bones

Fish and trees have something in common: you can tell their age by counting annual rings. In trees, annual rings form in their trunk. In fish, they form in their ear bones, or otoliths. Scientists use fish ages to find out how fast the fish grow, how healthy the population is and how human activities may affect it. Dr. Jim Reist from Fisheries and Oceans Canada is studying Arctic char and its role in the ecosystem. Learning about their age contributes to his research and helps us better understand how climate change might affect the Arctic char.

Fish Researcher Credit: Johan Hammar, courtesy DFO
Listening to Belugas Credit: Vancouver Aquarium

Eavesdropping On Belugas

Belugas are very vocal whales, with an extensive range of chirps, squeals and whistles that have earned them the nickname “canaries of the sea.” Valeria Vergara and the Vancouver Aquarium’s Cetacean Research Lab staff are using underwater microphones and spectrograms to study how beluga calves learn their calls. Like human babies, beluga calves are born knowing how to make sounds but have to learn how and when to use them from their mothers and other whales. As the Arctic melts, more ships and tankers will be able to pass through its waterways. Researchers are worried about how this extra noise will affect the belugas, which sometimes live in dark, murky waters and rely heavily on sound to communicate, navigate and find food.


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