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Arctic Marine Life Course


Course Details

From plankton to narwhals, seabirds to seals, the Arctic Marine Life Course brings Canadian scientists studying Arctic marine life directly to you. 

The course covers 12 topics that are pre-recorded 30-minute lectures: an introduction to cetaceans, belugas, narwhals, benthic ecology, fishes and invertebrates, Greenland sharks, seals, seabirds, polar bears, ocean currents, plankton and pollutants. 

Register as a student if you would like to receive a certificate of completion for the Arctic Marine Life Course. As a registered student, you receive electronic handouts for each topic, have access to some of the unlisted lectures, and are eligible to take an exam for certification (minimum score of 70% required).  

While there are no age restrictions for this course, classes are taught at an introductory level for university students.  

This program was part of the Science in Canada’s North Café Scientifique Series in 2015. The Vancouver Aquarium gratefully acknowledges the support of the W. Garfield Weston Foundation and the Canadian Association of Science Centres for their support of this program.

Contact jonathan.hultquist@ocean.org or phone 604-659-3497 for questions or registration information.




Pinnipeds and Seabirds

Dr. Andrew Trites is a research associate at the Vancouver Aquarium, professor at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre and director of the UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit.  Andrew’s research primarily focuses on Steller sea lions, northern fur seals and harbour seals, and involves captive studies, field studies and computer simulations. He seeks to further the conservation and understanding of marine mammals, and resolve conflicts between people and marine mammals.

Dr. Pat Baird is a research scientist at Simon Fraser University and her work focuses on documenting seabird populations that migrate to and from the Arctic.  



Dr. Sandie Black is the head of veterinary services at the Calgary Zoo.  She graduated from Acadia University with an honours bachelor of science degree in wildlife biology in 1978, from Ontario Veterinary College with a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine in 1985 and from Ontario Veterinary College with a residency in zoo/wildlife medicine and pathology in 1987.  She has been going to the Canadian Arctic to study narwhals for the last five years.


Benthic Ecology, Fishes, Invertebrates and Pollutants 

Dr. Peter Ross is the director of the Ocean Pollution Research Program at the Vancouver Aquarium.  In more than 25 years of marine pollution research, he has pioneered new techniques to evaluate the effects of persistent pollutants on the health of marine mammals. He has led groundbreaking studies on the health of B.C.’s iconic killer whales, effects of flame retardants on beluga whales, presence of hydrocarbons in sea otters and their habitat, trends in priority pollutants in harbour seals, the impacts of currently used pesticides on the health of salmon, and identification of emerging pollutants in sentinel species.  He is an international expert in the area of ocean pollution having published more than 120 scientific articles and book chapters.

Danny Kent is the head curator of Arctic and BC waters at the Vancouver Aquarium. He is an avid marine photographer and has captured amazing images of countless marine creatures over the course of hundreds of dives in Arctic waters.  

Dr. Marie Noel is Research Manager for the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Pollution Research Program. She did her PhD in the area of marine mammal toxicology at the University of Victoria, working on the effects of contaminants in the health of beluga whales in the Beaufort Sea. 


Ocean Currents, Cetaceans and Beluga Whales

Benjamin Scheifele is a doctoral student in physical oceanography at the University of British Columbia. His primary research interests are in Arctic oceanography, mixing in the ocean, and ocean-observing technologies. Benjamin's PhD project uses marine-robot technology to measure centimetre scale fluctuations in ocean velocity and temperature in the Canadian Arctic coastal seas. Benjamin grew up in Powell River BC and later studied physics at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia before moving to Vancouver in 2011. Besides science, he enjoys cycling, playing the piano, and exploring the BC wilderness.

Tessa Danelesko, BSc is the coordinator for the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network at the Vancouver Aquarium.  She was raised in Calgary, Alberta and fell in love with the ocean during summer vacations while exploring the shores of Vancouver Island. She attended the University of Victoria and completed the Combined Biology and Psychology program. She has experience working and volunteering for a variety of marine conservation and research organizations that have taken her around the globe.

Dr. Valeria Vergara is a research associate at the Vancouver Aquarium specializing in the behavioural ecology of cetaceans, particularly belugas.  She completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia by documenting how beluga calves develop their vastly rich repertoires of sounds and by identifying contact calls, an important call type that serves to maintain group cohesion and mother-calf contact.   Valeria’s work has taken her to the Nelson River Estuary, the St. Lawrence River Estuary and Cunningham Inlet in the Canadian Arctic.  Her work aims to understand the effects of the increased underwater noise in a melting Arctic on this species’ communication and behaviour.


Plankton and Polar Bears

Dr. Virginie Roy is a W. Garfield Weston Postdoctoral Fellow in Arctic Research based at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Virginie’s research focuses on the diversity and distribution of benthic marine invertebrate communities in the Arctic Ocean.  She led a study that showed for the first time, that the main source of carbon for benthic invertebrates across the entire Canadian Arctic Archipelago may come from ice algae. She is a member of the Canadian National Network for Implementing the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program – Marine Plan and is preparing an exhibit for the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Dr. Greg Thiemann is an associate professor at York University in Toronto and studies the foraging ecology and conservation of Arctic carnivores.  He research has taken him across Canada—from studying the foraging ecology and habitat use of polar bears in Southern Hudson Bay to observing polar bear feeding in the Gulf of Boothia.  He is a member of the IUCN/SSC polar bear specialist group, associate editor for Wildlife Biology and an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow.  

Travel support for Dr. Thiemann was generously provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)


Greenland Sharks 

Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark is the university director of animal care at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His research focuses on veterinary aspects of reptiles, amphibians and fishes, shark ecology in particular. He is on the boards of the Canadian Farm Animal Care Trust and the Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada. He is also the vice president and scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group, as well as a fellow of the Explorers Club.




Vancouver Aquarium public programs provide family-friendly opportunities for people to connect with each other through hands-on activities, lectures, films, classes and field trips—all focused on aquatic conservation. 


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Did You Know?

Did You Know?

97 percent of all animals on Earth are invertebrates. 
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