By CPAWS Manitoba
Did you know Manitoba’s north is a significant wildlife habitat?
It’s home to some of the largest concentrations of beluga whales and polar bears on the planet, along with hundreds of species of birds nesting along the coast of the Western Hudson Bay. It is also losing ice faster than most parts of the Arctic.
We (virtually) introduced Manitoba’s north to more than 390 people over three months in 2022 with our Arctic Speaker Series. The seven-part series explored the research being done in our province’s Arctic and subarctic regions.
The webinars covered a wide range of topics – from using snot to measure the stress levels of beluga whales to how climate change is affecting polar bears in Churchill. You can find all of the webinar recordings on our Vimeo page, free to watch at any time.
Beluga Bits: A Community Science Project
What it’s about: This webinar explores beluga whale research via a community science project with Assiniboine Park Zoo!
Assiniboine Park Zoo researchers work with partners to run Beluga Bits, a citizen science-powered project that uses underwater imagery to peek into the world of beluga whales. Ashleigh Westphal, Research Conservation Specialist with the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, explains the important role of community science in researching whales, what researchers have discovered through the project so far, and how you can get involved with the project from your own classroom or home.
Community science offers diverse and engaging opportunities for the public to contribute to real-world scientific research and inspire people to become stewards of the natural world.
Through the Beluga Bits project, people from around the world can connect with Manitoba’s whales while helping answer questions about beluga biology, social structure, threats, and ocean health.
Snot For Science: Tracking Stress Levels in Manitoba’s Belugas
What it’s about: Can we measure the stress of Manitoba’s beluga whales…using their snot?
That’s what #SnotForScience aims to find out. The hashtag is part of a research project by Justine Hudson, studying how climate change and human activity affect the stress levels of beluga whales. She spent two summers in Churchill, Manitoba collecting snot from free-swimming beluga whales and measuring cortisol, an indicator of stress.
An estimated one-third of the world’s population of beluga whales migrate into the Churchill, Seal, and Nelson river estuaries each summer. But with longer ice-free periods in the Arctic sea, these belugas are becoming more vulnerable to increased ship traffic, hydroelectric development, and predation from orca whales.
Justine speaks on how she managed to successfully collect snot, the results of the research, and what it all means for the future of Manitoba’s belugas.
Manitoba’s Seabirds: The Feathered Link
What it’s about: Western Hudson Bay is home to nearly 200 different species of birds, including many species of seabirds like the thick-billed murre, that seek refuge in the region during parental care and moult.
Dr. Kyle Eliott, Canada Research Chair in Arctic Ecology, shares almost two decades of research on seabirds in Hudson Bay.
He discusses how birds are indicators of environmental health, the important connection between efforts to conserve Nunavut’s Southampton Island and Manitoba’s Western Hudson Bay and what has been discovered through movement and GPS tracking of seabirds in the region.
Polar Bears in a Warming Arctic: Why Manitoba’s Melting Sea Ice Matters
What it’s about: Western Hudson Bay is home to nearly 1000 polar bears relying on the formation of sea ice to be able to travel, hunt and mate. It is also losing ice faster than most parts of the Arctic.
The average ice-free period is 28 days longer now than it was in the 1980s.
Dr. Andrew Derocher, professor of biology at the University of Alberta and long-time scientific advisor to Polar Bears International, highlights more than 30 years of arctic research, including what changing climate conditions mean for Manitoba’s polar bear population.
The polar bears of Western Hudson Bay are by far the most studied anywhere in the world and offer a model for understanding the effects of climate change applicable across the Arctic and elsewhere.
Vessel Traffic and Beluga Behaviour in Western Hudson Bay
What it’s about: As the ice melts in Western Hudson Bay, some 55,000 beluga whales migrate to the region’s major estuaries on the Churchill, Nelson and Seal rivers, to moult, calve, and feed.
From 2019 to 2021, Veronica, Emma and Maddie — then all students at the Centre for Earth Observation of the University of Manitoba — traveled to Churchill, Manitoba to study the impacts of vessel traffic on beluga behaviour in the Churchill River estuary.
They discuss their research, what it means for beluga whales in Manitoba, and the various methods they used to collect data including underwater microphones, computer vision technology, and time-lapse imagery.
The Churchill River estuary is an important habitat for the Western Hudson Bay beluga population and is a popular area for whale-watching tourism and a hub for northern shipping. Access is easy which provides incredible opportunities to see and learn more about these amazing whales.
Arctic Bioscan: Using DNA to Track Biodiversity in Canada’s North
What it’s about: The Arctic is warming at three times the average global rate, causing sea ice to melt more quickly and affecting many plant and animal species in the region.
It’s important for researchers to understand these changes to Arctic environments as they can have severe consequences globally—including rising sea levels and unpredictable fluctuations in methane and carbon cycling. But there is currently not enough baseline data on biodiversity to track the effects of these changing climate conditions.
Researcher Dani Nowosad explains her work with the Arctic BIOSCAN (ARCBIO) project, which uses DNA barcoding to measure biodiversity in Canada’s North, including in Churchill, Manitoba.
Dani explains how exactly DNA barcoding is being used to document biodiversity and what it means in the context of global climate change. With millions of records now accessible online and to the public, DNA barcoding has contributed an incredible amount of knowledge and information on global biodiversity.
Dynamic Ice Cover of Hudson Bay & Projected Impacts of Climate Change
What it’s about: David Babb, PhD Student and Research Associate in the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, highlights his research on the seasonal ice pack that forms annually across the greater Hudson Bay marine region.
Historically, very little research had been done on sea ice in the area, despite the fact that it comprises approximately 10 per cent of the total sea ice area in the northern hemisphere and serves as a travel route for the surrounding Inuit communities.
David discusses how he and his colleagues at the University of Manitoba use modern observing systems and unique in situ observations from various field campaigns to take a closer look at the ice cover.
He highlights some of their findings, including the patterns and trends in the timing of fall freeze-up and spring breakup, the formation and expansion of landfast ice in coastal areas, the dynamic processes that create a heavily deformed and thick ice cover in the region, and the role of a large polynya (area of open water) in western Hudson Bay on the regional ice pack.
How You Can Get Involved
Learn more about our Hudson Bay Marine Conservation Area and Protect Polar Bears iniatitiaves, and then sign a letter of support encouraging the government to establish an NMCA and support the creation of Indigenous protected areas to safeguard polar bear habitat.
–Thanks in part to the National Audubon Society for making this blog possible. CPAWS greatly appreciates its support of our boreal conservation efforts in Manitoba–