Beluga health and food borne parasites in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: physical sciences, traditional knowledge, beluga whale, marine mammals, parasites

Principal Investigator: Jenkins, Emily J (4)
Licence Number: 15708
Organization: University of Saskatchewan
Licenced Year(s): 2018 2017 2016 2015
Issued: Jul 07, 2015
Project Team: Sonja Ostertag (Beluga biologist, Dept Fisheries Oceans), Lisa Loseto (Beluga biologist, Dept Fisheries Oceans), Brett Elkin (Wildlife veterinarian, Govt NT), Alvin Gajadhar (Research scientist, Canadian Food Inspection Agency), Brent Dixon (Research scientist, Health Canada)

Objective(s): To assess the overall health of beluga in the ISR (Inuvialuit Settlement Region), and compare to southern populations; to determine which animals, and which tissues, harbour parasites transmissible to people through food-borne routes; and to assess and communicate risks in a culturally appropriate and timely manner to local residents, harvesters, territorial public health and wildlife health personnel, and the general scientific community.

Project Description: The objectives of this research project are to assess the overall health of beluga in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), and compare to southern populations; to determine which animals, and which tissues, harbour parasites transmissible to people through food-borne routes; and to assess and communicate risks in a culturally appropriate and timely manner to local residents, harvesters, territorial public health and wildlife health personnel, and the general scientific community.

The research team will work with local hunters and DFO biologists to collect samples:
• Harvested beluga will be measured and weighed;
• Blood samples will be collected at the base of the tail;
• A complete examination of the viscera will be conducted and sections of each organ will be collected for microscopic examination;
• The lungs will be examined for lungworms;
• Samples will be collected and tested for parasites (Toxoplasma and Trichinella) at the Zoonotic Parasite Research Unit, University of Saskatchewan, and the Centre for Food and Animal Parasitology, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Saskatoon. Samples positive for Toxoplasma will be sent to the Health Canada food testing laboratory in Ottawa for confirmation and parasite genetic characterization.

The research team will work with local hunters who harvest country foods from beluga, stay with a local family, and hire local guides and boats for field logistical support (cultural and economic benefits). The research team will help determine the overall health status of the beluga population in the ISR, as well as what animals and tissues are likely to harbour food borne parasites that may transmit to people (educational and health benefits).

The Fisheries Joint Management Committee (FJMC) hires a local summer student who is welcome to be involved in the harvest and collection of samples. As well, one junior monitor from Tuktoyaktuk will be hired by the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation during the sampling season to receive training in proper sampling techniques on Hendrickson Island. The sampling program on Hendrickson Island is complemented by an additional project co-led by the FJMC and supported by the Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik HTCs titled 'Enhancing community-based monitoring of ecosystem changes in the ISR through the bridging of western scientific knowledge with local and traditional ecological knowledge'. For this project component, one TEK-holder will be present on Hendrickson Island to assist with the collection of TEK alongside scientific measurements/sampling of beluga.

The research team will share summarized results at Joint Fisheries Management Committee meetings and/or Hunter Trapper Committee meetings. The team will work with public health and wildlife officials in the NT to develop appropriate knowledge translation materials in the form of pamphlets and posters, as well as local radio and community meetings, if there is interest from the community.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 8, 2015 to July 30, 2015.