Darnley Bay Seal Monitoring

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: contaminants, community based monitoring, marine mammals, seals

Principal Investigator: Insley, Stephen J (12)
Licence Number: 15674
Organization: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016 2015 2014
Issued: Jun 02, 2015
Project Team: Stephen Insley (Principal Investigator, WCS Canada), PHTC (Field Logistics, PHTC)

Objective(s): To design and maintain a long-term, locally-based, monitoring program focused on ringed seals and bearded seals in the Darnley Bay area of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

Project Description: The goal of this project is to design and maintain a long-term, locally-based, monitoring program focused on ringed seals (Pusa hispida) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) in the Darnley Bay area of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT.

To accomplish these objectives, the research team have designed a program to work with the local community of Paulatuk in order to collect data on diet and condition of harvested bearded and ringed seals. In subsequent seasons the research team hope to add a limited number of tissue and/or blood samples in order to conduct further analyses of diet (e.g. fatty acid and/or stable isotope) and pathology (virus exposure). Diet/condition sampling is conducted in three basic onsite stages: (1) recording context data; (2) condition measurements; and (3) sample collection for post-processing. The context data involves: (1) time and by whom the seal was brought in; (2) time and location the seal was taken; (3) species; and (4) any extra circumstantial information noted by the hunter (e.g. seal was hauled out when taken). Condition measurements, conducted immediately by the monitor will include: (1) whole animal weight; (2) length (nose to extended tail flippers) and girth (circumference measured at the posterior attachment point of both fore flippers); (3) blubber thickness (measured at the sternum); (4) sex (as indicated by the presence/absence of a penile aperture); and (5) external full body check for abnormalities (e.g. hair loss). Any abnormalities detected are to be photographed.

After the condition measurements are completed, samples will be taken for post-processing. The first of these is the stomach sample to infer diet. The entire stomach is to be removed and processed either immediately or stored (iced and then frozen) for processing at a later time with other stomachs. If stored, samples will each be immediately sealed in a labeled bag (seal #; species; date; location). Processing will involve sorting and recording the stomach contents into identifiable species and into that which is unidentifiable. Each sorted group is to be weighed and recorded. When stomach samples are processed, the stomach will be examined for parasites or other abnormalities. Examples of stomach contents and any abnormalities are photographed.

Tissue collection, if carried out, is likely to include: (1) liver sample for toxicology and genetics; and (2) tissue, vibrissae and possibly blood for corticosterone (diet stress) and stable isotope analysis. The optimal and minimal size of each of these samples, and the best storage techniques (e.g. alcohol, DMSO, frozen) are to be determined. If the budget allows, these samples are to be shipped immediately for processing following the conclusion of the sample collection. If not, samples will be stored until processed.

There is a clear need for such a monitoring program in the Darnley Bay area, especially in the area of the nearby proposed Marine Protected Area (i.e. the Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam Area of Interest or ANAOI). There is also a need for such an effort to be long-term, self-sustaining, and standardized with other similar efforts in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) and beyond. The results are expected to provide valuable and timely information that is likely to be important for dealing with the ecosystem change.

The core of this project involves local involvement. It is community-based monitoring of ice seals in the Paulatuk region.

During the winter following the first season of data collection and after the data has been summarized, the research team expect to travel to the community of Paulatuk in order to share the results with the community during an open Hunters and Trappers Meeting. The results are also to be shared with the wider ISR community during an Inuvialuit Game Council meeting. If possible, the timing of both presentations and discussions will occur during the same trip. In addition, regular communications are expected via internet (e.g. email) and telephone.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 1, 2015 to October 31, 2015.