New Thinking Needed to Conserve Canada’s Wildlife and Ecosystems

By Mike Wilson and John Lounds

Despite the abundant wildlife and ecosystems in Canada’s North, nature is facing an alarming decline in southern Canada.

Habitat loss and fragmentation have resulted in significant loss of wildlife, leading to declines in many species that were once common, such as the Greater sage-grouse and the American bumblebee. Current approaches won’t be sufficient to ensure that humans and wildlife can thrive on a shared planet.

In recent years, we’ve seen a bold new vision for the coexistence and flourishing of humans and wildlife on Earth. A growing movement of scientists, conservationists, policymakers and business leaders are calling for governments to set aside 30 per cent of their land and waters by 2030, with the long-term goal of achieving sustainable land management and nature conservation across all our landscapes and seascapes. Traditional approaches to conservation are essential in achieving this vision, but without new thinking they are not enough to meet these goals and solve the towering challenges before us.

The threats facing our wildlife and ecosystems are staggering.

A Global Assessment Report released earlier this month by the UN Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimated that one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. And despite the abundant wildlife and ecosystems in Canada’s North, nature is facing an alarming decline in southern Canada. Habitat loss and fragmentation have resulted in significant loss of wildlife, leading to declines in many species that were once common, such as the Greater sage-grouse and the American bumblebee.

@ Viv Lynch

Canada and other countries are attempting to turn these trends around. Nations signed on to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets in 2010, under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Canada and other signatories committed to protect at least seventeen percent of their terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 10 percent of their marine and coastal areas by 2020.

We have seen inspiring efforts to make good on this pledge. Recently, the Government of Canada hosted the Nature Summit, a global gathering of leaders from governments, Indigenous nations, business and civil society to set an ambitious, post-2020 agenda for conservation. The summit saw a raft of new announcements for nature protection in Canada, such as formally protecting the Laurentian Whale Passage and establishing strict new standards for marine protected areas. This is in addition to the historic $1.3-billion investment in nature conservation initiatives that the 2018 budget committed to over five years.

A Shift in Thinking is Needed To Meet Our Goals

While we are getting closer to meeting our 2020 Aichi targets, this is just the beginning to achieving a sustainable society, and more ambitious action and results are needed. To meet the bold 30 per cent by 2030 targets proposed by scientists, we need to kick-start a shift in thinking on nature conservation. While governments have led conservation in the past, new thinking for nature must also bring together the collective efforts of businesses, Indigenous nations, communities and civil societies to build the foundation of a sustainable future.

Ensuring that ecosystems and wildlife can thrive alongside humans, now and in the future, means that we must broaden our idea of conservation. An expanded notion of conservation encompasses stewardship and protection measures in the landscapes and seascapes where Canadians work, live and play—such as urban areas, agricultural lands, and coastal fishing economies—as well as the ecologically intact protected areas that traditionally come to mind. This ‘new thinking’ for nature conservation does not displace traditional motivations and approaches to conservation, but instead ‘grows the tent’ by showing how conservation helps address many important challenges our country is facing.

New Thinking For Nature Needs to Attract Broad Coalitions of Unlikely Allies

It will involve working with public and mental health advocates to establish urban green spaces that help reduce stress and mental illness. Collaborating with municipalities to quantify how natural infrastructure— such as wetlands and floodplains—can cost-effectively deliver essential services such as flood prevention while helping us adapt to climate change. Demonstrating to industries as diverse as insurance, tourism, retail, and natural resources that nature conservation and sustainable resource management can lower business risks and lead to new innovation and investment opportunities. Most importantly, it means fostering nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples so that they are empowered to manage wildlife and protected areas on their traditional territories.

Imagining these new approaches to nature conservation is vital to realizing a shared vision of a Canada in which people and wildlife can flourish together.

Mike Wilson is executive director of Smart Prosperity Institute. John Lounds is president & CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Rick Bates is executive vice-president and CEO of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Reprinted with permission from The Hill Times: 5/27/2019 New thinking needed to conserve Canada’s wildlife and ecosystemsThe Hill Times

On a Collision Course: CWF Investigates Small Vessel Impact on North Atlantic Right Whales

For the North Atlantic Right Whale — one of the most critically endangered baleen whales in the world — 2017 proved to be a terrible year.

In 2017, at least 13 dead whales were recorded in the Gulf of St. Lawrence – likely representing the highest mortality since commercial whaling of this species was banned in 1937. For a population with fewer than 500 individuals remaining, this modern unprecedented loss has severe negative implications on population stability and potential population recovery.

In other words, this animal could go extinct very soon.

Whales are are dwarfed by large ocean-going vessels.
Whales are dwarfed by large ocean-going vessels.

Whales are Big. Boats are Bigger.

North Atlantic Right Whales migrate up and down waters off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most heavily trafficked areas for shipping in North America. Although right whales are among the largest animals in the sea and can weigh up to 96 tonnes, they are dwarfed by large ocean-going vessels (e.g. container or cargo carriers) and stand little chance of survival when struck.

Recognizing this, efforts have been made to decrease the number of whales struck by large vessels, including rerouting shipping lanes around areas where whales are known to occur (i.e. critical habitats), and imposing speed restrictions on vessels travelling through these areas.

Less is known about the impact small vessels have on right whales
Less is known about the impact small vessels have on right whales.

Researching Small Vessel Impacts

Less is known about the impact small vessels (e.g. fishing boats) have on right whales. In particular, whether such a collision could harm or kill a whale. CWF is working to answer this question.

Using our knowledge of whale physiology and basic principles of collision mechanics, we will use computer models to predict whether the forces on the whales during these collisions could cause serious harm. The computer model we are building will take into account specific features of Right Whales (e.g. blubber thickness) and of small vessels (e.g. ship weight). This new collission impact prediction tool will provide industry and regulators with the ability to explore how the risk of harm to right whales from small vessel stikes changes depending on the size, speed, and design of the vessel.

To protect North Atlantic Right Whales and recover the population, we have to look at all potential human activities, including small vessel strikes, quantify the risk and take action to eliminate any impacts. This requires good science, backed up with real numbers. This project will establish the important forces to consider during collisions and estimate the possible impacts on Right Whales.

Ultimately this work will lead to recommendations on how the risk may be avoided. This requires good science, backed up with real numbers. We will have the opportunity to expand this work in more detail as we better establish the important measureable forces during collisions, and to suggest how the risk may be mitigated.

Learn more about the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s work in Canada’s Coasts & Oceans or Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance.

All Caught Up — Disentangling Whales in Newfoundland and Labrador

The fact is whales get tangled in fishing gear.

helping whale
© Whale Release and Strandings

Whether whales are in search of food, migrating or are just curious, these animals can become entangled. The rope or net of the gear can get wrapped around their head, flippers or tail. When they become entangled they can also end up dragging along a trap or pot or worse, become anchored to the ocean bottom.

Entanglements can cause injury, drowning or a slow painful death. This is one of the leading threats to whales around the world. Even though it is far from what fish harvesters intend, it is also a frequent occurrence in Newfoundland and Labrador waters.

In response to this problem — for whales and fishers alike — are whale disentanglers, such as Julie Huntington. Both Julie and her husband were presented with the Tuck Walters Environmental Award earlier this year for their dedication to wildlife conservation through their work with the Whale Release and Strandings Group.

Julie Huntington Wayne Edwell
© Whale Release and Strandings

The Canadian Wildlife Federation sat down with Julie to get her take on disentangling whales in Newfoundland and Labrador.

CWF: How did whale disentanglement start in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Julie: It started with Dr. Jon Lien. Dr. Lien was an animal behaviouralist at Memorial University working on whales in Newfoundland in the late 1970s.

He had been called up by a few local fishermen because a whale was entangled in their cod trap.

People associated Dr. Lien with all things whale. These fishermen hoped Dr. Lien could help them with this entangled whale incident.

Dr. Lien had never disentangled whales from fishing gear before. But he did recognize the need to address the animal’s welfare and the impact on fishers. This was the start of whale disentanglement in Newfoundland. It was also the first of its kind in the world!

CWF: When did you get started?

I started in the late ’80s. Dr. Lien called me up asking if I wanted a job disentangling whales. Previous to moving to Newfoundland, I had fished in Northern Australia, made prawn trawling gear, and sold fishing boats and licenses. I was comfortable working on boats and familiar with fishing gear.

CWF: How does your organization fit in?

Julie: A marine animal release program has operated in Newfoundland since 1979. In the early days of the disentanglement work, the program was led by Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Whale Research Group. Since 2001, the Whale Release and Strandings Group has run the program ever since; responding to whales, Leatherback sea turtles and basking sharks entrapped in fishing gear, ice entrapped or stranded on the shoreline. It is a marine animal release and fishers’ assistance program.

Dr. Lien started this program almost 40 years ago. We’ve pioneered the disentanglement techniques, tools and practices that have been copied and implemented all over the world. I manage WRS with my husband, Wayne Ledwell, who operates in a team to release entangled whales from fishing gear.

CWF: What is the most important thing to remember about disentanglement practices?

Julie: A disentanglement release can be done safely but it takes a community. It’s not just the WRS disentanglement team releasing the animal. It also includes the fishermen and their knowledge of the gear, the disentanglers’ experience as well as the community where the incident occurs. It’s a collaborative effort. You can’t be a cowboy — don’t do it alone.

netting on head
© Wayne Ledwell, Whale Release and Strandings

CWF: What should the public be aware of regarding whale disentanglement?

Julie: Disentangling a distressed animal of that size is dangerous. It is a skilled and specialized job. The public should be aware that they shouldn’t attempt to do it. It takes hands-on experience. They may not know the gear and won’t realize how much of the gear is not seen from the surface of the water.

For the concern of human and animal safety, make sure to call your local marine animal response agency or DFO to alert them to these incidents.

Disentanglements can be dangerous, and improperly executed responses can endanger humans and cause more harm to the animal, due to increased distress or worsened entanglement.

CWF: What is the greatest limiting factor for successful disentanglements in NL?

The weather is always a challenge. If you don’t have the weather, you can’t do it. Also taken into account are sea state, daylight and the distance from shore.

CWF: What is the most significant or difficult disentanglement you’ve ever done?

They all are! Every single one. Each incident is equally important and each disentanglement is unique. The weather conditions, whale behaviour, location and entanglement configuration make disentanglement incidents challenging, but rewarding.

Since 1979, over 1,350 whales have been reported to WRS as entangled or entrapped in fishing gear off the NL coast. I’ve been involved in hundreds of them.

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Disentanglement is an ongoing problem in Canadian waters.

disentangling marine animal wrs cmara
© Whale Release and Strandings

It is the dedicated people like Julie Huntington that contribute to resolving this issue: the animals released, decreasing the downtime and damage to fisher’s gear, and the contribution to science about these incidents and marine animals that can help prevent future entanglements from occurring.

Julie concluded the interview with this:

“Education is important. It will take all of us to figure out this problem. But for now, it takes a few dedicated people to go out and do it. Any day of the week, on their weekends or holidays they go out and get the whale out as soon and as safely as possible and get the fishermen fishing again.”

Become a Part of The Watch! Join hundreds of coastal Canadians who live alongside some of our most endangered species — animals that face many dangers in our coastal oceans. Learn what to do if you come across a marine animal emergency by becoming a part of The Watch.

Season Wrap-Up: Lessons from a Conservation Crisis

As the shock of the terrible events of this year begins to wear off, a series of meetings are underway to begin preparing for the future. These meetings are motivated by one question: how do we save the Right Whale?

© Marine Animal Response Society
The 12th North Atlantic Right Whale found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Photo: Marine Animal Response Society

Taking a History Lesson

The first step is to understand what happened and how. In 2015 and 2016, aerial, vessel and glider surveys conducted in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence identified a feeding area for the North Atlantic Right Whale. Four Right Whale deaths occurred within this area during these two years, as far as we know.

May 2017: Two cohorts of snow crab in the southern Gulf fishery came into commercial age at the same time, which resulted in a doubling of snow crab quota for the fishery, and therefore increased fishing effort. We hadn’t expected Right Whales to be in the Gulf as early as May (the beginning of the snow crab season), but acoustic data from the Cabot Strait area later showed the animals entering the Gulf in the first week of May. This increased the chances of Right Whales getting entangled in fishing gear and introduced more obstacles for Right whales in the water.

June 2017: At the beginning of the summer, whales began dying, due to blunt force trauma from ship strike and snow crab gear entanglement.

July – September 2017: By mid-September, 12 animals had been found, as well as a number of live entangled animals. More than a quarter of the population was present in the Gulf this summer, while our glider in Roseway Basin was mostly silent (that is, very few Right Whale were detected there). As the snow crab fishery closure and vessel speed restrictions were imposed in the region, glider, aerial and vessel survey effort ramped up in the Gulf this year and expanded the known habitat area in the Gulf substantially. Right Whales remain in the Gulf to this day.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As there are only 100 breeding females left in the entire population, Right Whales are in serious trouble. However, the mortality event of this year has increased our motivation even further to find solutions to conserve this species. Three issues need to be addressed moving forward: how to reduce fishing gear entanglements, how to reduce ship strike risk, and how to continue monitoring for these animals.

Gillnet
Notice the vertical lines anchoring the gillnet from the surface to the ocean bottom. These vertical ropes are an entanglement risk to whales. Photo: NOAA.

Changing Fishing Gear

On the fishing gear side, ropeless gear seems to be a long-term solution, and a solution advocated by the Right Whale conservation community. Ropeless gear eliminates vertical lines in the water that Right Whales and other animals become entangled in. There are experimental technologies that have been prototyped, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada was supportive of developing these technologies in his recent roundtable meeting on November 9th.

Reducing Ship Strikes

On the ship strike side, speed restrictions and rerouting have successfully reduced ship strike risk to these animals in other parts of the Right Whale range, and these are the only solutions available. We are working with our industry and government partners to examine options for future years. This is complicated by the fact that the area occupied by Right Whales in the southern Gulf is very large, and the shipping channel very narrow. To help with this, the WHaLE project is developing a real-time alerting system for vessels transiting Canadian waters to give vessel operators the opportunity to respond to unexpected presence of Right Whales, as occurred in 2015.

Kim Davies

Keeping Our Ears on the Situation

Finally, on the monitoring side, we are ramping up the glider operations for spring and summer of 2018, in collaboration with our many colleagues in the air and on the water, and we will be back next year!

To learn more about the WHaLE project, visit our website: CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/Whales.

The Haunting Sounds of Whales…and What They Mean

The ocean can sometimes be a scary place. It is home to many creatures of alien appearance and frightening size. The ocean even has a soundtrack perfect for Halloween. A symphony of haunting creaks, grunts, moans and eerie songs that can be heard across oceans.

Whales contribute to this harmony of ocean sound with songs that have been described as haunting but also beautiful. Humpback Whale calls were even recorded into a music album in the 1960s. This album is not only an insight into the underwater world, but allowed musicians to realize the complexity of these calls as more than just squeaks and moans, but songs. Some whale calls even sound like an instrument, such as the knock calls of Gray Whales, which sound like a drum.

Whales use sound in many different ways:  to find their food, for navigation, for communication and so many other things.

Sperm Whales, the largest of the toothed whales, use creak calls or clicking sounds to find their prey. This technique used by toothed whales is called echolocation, just like bats, where sound waves are projected into their environment and its echo returns to the whale allowing them to locate where the objects are in space.

North Atlantic Right Whales make a few different call types, including their signature upcall. Upcalls are thought to be contact calls used by right whales to communicate with one another.

Fin Whales change the frequency and pace of their calls depending on its intended purpose. Lower frequency pulse calls travel greater distances, while higher frequency pulses can be used for closer range communication between individuals of this species.

Although whale species have different calls for particular purposes, these call types can sound differently within a species indicating different populations. Antarctic Blue Whale calls are distinct from any other Blue Whale population. Dialects are found across whale species and dolphins, such as Sperm Whale and Killer Whale ecotypes.

The prolific use of sound by whales and distinct call types per species are some of the reasons why the WHaLE project uses underwater gliders equipped with hydrophones (underwater microphones) to learn more about whales within Canadian waters. These gliders can cover large areas of the ocean over months at a time recording whale sounds, and detecting whales in an area where we would never see them. These recordings can tell researchers where whales are and what they may be doing too!

Although humans mainly use sight to learn from their environment, whales do not. Light doesn’t penetrate very far in the ocean, as it does on land, making most parts of the ocean dark and others completely pitch black! Even close to the surface it can be difficult to see very far because the ocean is full of microscopic life, such as plankton, that makes the water murky, or green. Water is very efficient at conducting sound. This is exactly why whales depend on sound in their environment and why it makes perfect sense for researchers to learn about them using sound too.

To learn more about Canada’s great whales, visit our website: CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/Whales

Quest to Find Canada's Great Whales

Understanding the Incident Report for the 2017 North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

During the summer of 2017, we seemed to be discovering dead or entangled North Atlantic Right Whales every week in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Throughout this catastrophe, teams of specialists volunteered to do detailed examinations of the dead bodies. These are called necropsies.

With help from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), seven carcasses were ultimately towed to shore so that these necropsies could be performed. They didn’t wait until the animals were towed ashore before these dedicated specialists set to work going out to sea and climbing on the bodies of the dead animals so they could take samples.

On October 5, a detailed report was released to present the findings of the necropsies. The Incident Report was compiled by members of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (Atlantic region, and Québec region), as well as the Marine Animal Response Society, with contributions by numerous partners.

Below are the main findings of the report:

In total, 12 Right Whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

  • Necropsies were done on seven of the dead whales.
  • Four of the whales were killed by a violent strike by something very large.
  • Two of the whales died as a result of being entangled in ropes.
  • The cause of death of one whale could not be determined because it was too decomposed (although there was evidence this whale was also hit by something large, but this couldn’t be confirmed as the cause of death).
  • They have also determined that neither biotoxins (such as a red tide), disease, nor starvation had any role in the deaths of these whales.
© Marine Animal Response Society
Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative collects samples from a female North Atlantic Right Whale carcass. Photo: Marine Animal Response Society.

Five other Right Whales were also observed entangled during the summer.

  • Two of these animals were freed because of the successful disentanglement attempts by the Campobello Whale Rescue Team with support from DFO.
  • One whale freed itself because it was seen at a later date with no gear attached to it.
  • The remaining two whales have not been re-sighted so they may still be entangled.
  • Six of the seven entangled animals (two of the dead animals and the five of the live animals), were entangled by snow crab gear.

The Incident Report was dedicated to Joe Howlett, the specialist with the Campobello Whale Rescue Team who disentangled two of the entangled Right Whales, but died as he freed the last animal.

The effect of human activity on North Atlantic Right Whales is real and serious to their existence. Although many scientists and conservation organizations have been identifying these threats for many years, the events of the summer of 2017 showed this very clearly.

We need to act, or North Atlantic Right Whales will be gone forever.

Your Right Whale Questions Answered

With the 11th North Atlantic Right Whale found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, totaling 14 mortalities in the Atlantic since June, there are many questions surrounding the largest mortality event for this endangered species since right whales were hunted.

Although the investigation into this mortality event has not concluded, it has sparked many question from the public about Right Whales, from why do whales get entangled in fishing gear to why don’t we tag whales?

We’ve gathered together researchers to discuss what threatens Right Whales and why, and we’ve also come up with potential solutions to these threats and how we can learn more about this species. Answering your most burning questions are two researchers from the Whale Habitat and Listening Experiment (WHaLE): Dr. Chris Taggart, the WHaLE principal investigator and Professor of Oceanography at Dalhousie University, and Dr. Kim Davies, a postdoctoral oceanographer and author of many of the WHaLE blog posts you’ve been following this summer; as well as Dr. Sean Brillant, the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s own senior conservation biologist.

Programs like WHaLE help us answer these questions and learn more about right whales and other species. This information can assist to better protect them and the oceans we all use.

Share this video to help others answer their questions about the North Atlantic right whale. To follow along with us as we search for Canada’s great whales, check out our website CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/Whales.

Saving the North Atlantic Right Whale

There are only about 500 North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world. Based on scarring patterns, it is estimated that more than 100 of these whales get entangled in fishing gear every year.

Between two and six North Atlantic Right Whales die every year as a result.

Grand Manan Basin and Roseway Basin
Map of Atlantic Canada showing the two Canadian Species at Risk Act Critical Habitats recommended for seasonal closure: Grand Manan Basin and Roseway Basin.

We have been working to discover where exactly North Atlantic Right Whales are most in danger on the Atlantic coast. They are known to aggregate in two areas – the Grand Manan Basin, Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin, Scotian Shelf. By closing these fishing areas in July and August, we could reduce the risk of entanglement by 30 per cent! It’s the difference between extinction and survival for this species.

Now that we know where North Atlantic Right Whales face the most at risk, our next step is to convince the  government to block fishing in these two areas over the summer.

Help spread the word about the risk to North Atlantic Right Whales by sharing this video. To follow along as we discover whales across the Atlantic, check out our website: CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/Whales.

Uniting Technology to Track Whales

The glider in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence has been monitoring Right Whales in that area for nearly three months now, and it has been a fascinating survey.

North Atlantic Right Whale
A North Atlantic right whale makes its characteristic V-shaped blow while swimming in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In our last glider update, I told you how the glider was near the shelf-break where large ships transit out of the St. Lawrence River, a prime spot for ship strikes to occur. However, the glider didn’t hear many Right Whales out there, so we moved it down south to where Right Whales had been documented from aerial surveys. Aerial surveys use onboard observers to visually scan an area to record whale presence within a planned survey route. Almost immediately, the glider began recording Right Whale upcalls (listen with headphones to hear the calls more clearly). Upcalls are a contact call made by all Right Whales, which they use to say ‘hi’ to one another.  But we found it curious that the airplane observers were seeing dozens of whales, like the one pictured below, whereas there were only a few upcalls a day being recorded by the glider.

Sonobuoys
A U.S. Navy airplane dropping sonobuoys. Sonobuoys listen for sounds underwater and broadcast those sounds over radio, so a circling airplane can listen to and record underwater sound.

For three days, the whales, sonobuoys and glider were close together and recorded upcalls, as well as gunshots – which is a mating sound produced by male Right Whale – and also other curious sounds that we aren’t too sure if Right Whales are making, or if they might be made by other species.   Now, with this dataset, we will be able to do an in-depth analysis of the frequency and types of sounds that Right Whales are making in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, back in Halifax, the issues that Right Whales have been facing in the Gulf have dominated the media, and I have done several stories about the issue. Look to last Friday’s issue of Science magazine for a story about the science behind this conservation emergency.

Learn more about the issues that Right Whales are facing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

Navigating Gliders in Support of Whale Conservation

Our friends at WHaLE deployed a glider into the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in early June, just before aerial and shipboard surveys discovered several Right Whales north off the Shediac Valley.

For the first few weeks of deployment, the glider was fairly far north of where the Right Whales had been sighted.  I was frustrated by the lack of Right Whale calls on the glider. The animals were clearly present in the region, but the glider appeared to be too far north. By late-June it was time to take action and redirect that glider south.

The Quest to Find Canada's Great Whales

How gliders work

Gliders move by changing their internal buoyancy. When they get to the ocean surface, they move a piston inward to become denser and sink, and when they arrive near the seafloor, they move the piston outward which enables them to become lighter and float slowly back up to the surface. There is a fairly narrow range of ocean densities that the glider can navigate in this manner, so before the glider is deployed, the technicians ballast the glider to the range of ocean densities that we expect the glider to encounter.

We are learning to expect the unexpected in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

If you live in Ontario, then flooding might have been a topic of conversation over the spring and summer months. What you may not know is that to help ease the impact of flooding in the Great Lakes, the government released dam water into the St. Lawrence river. The St. Lawrence river empties into the ocean where our glider was flying. The combination of severe rainfall and the dam release caused a freshwater (i.e., low density) lens to cap the ocean water throughout the southern Gulf. The salinity of the water was the lowest ever measured since monitoring began in 1965.  Because of this low density surface lens, the glider struggled to get to the surface on each dive, and was making no headway south.

WHaLE Map Update

Technical support to the rescue

Adam Comeau, an Ocean Tracking Network glider technician, raced out to the glider on a fishing boat out of North Port, PEI, to collect the glider. The glider was designed with external weights that could be removed or added to change the weight of the glider (and hence the density range it could navigate) on the fly. By removing some of these weights, Adam was able to save the glider mission. The glider eventually moved south and began recording right whale sounds, and many other biological sounds, in great quantity. Thank you Adam!

With this adjustment we are hoping to hear many more whale calls from the glider. Check out our map to see which whale species have been heard and where!