Darnley Bay Seal Monitoring

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

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

Principal Investigator: Insley, Stephen J (12)
Licence Number: 15872
Organization: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016 2015 2014
Issued: Apr 27, 2016

Objective(s): 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 and Sachs Harbour areas of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT.

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 and Sachs Harbour areas of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT.

To accomplish the objectives, the research team have designed a program to work with the local communities of Paulatuk and Sachs Harbour in order to collect data on diet and condition of harvested bearded and ringed seals. The team also 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 foreflippers); 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 and Sachs Harbour areas, especially in the proximity of the 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 and Sachs Harbour regions.

During the winter/spring following data collection and after the data has been summarized, the Principal Investigator (or someone on my behalf) expect to travel to the communities of Paulatuk and Sachs Harbour 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 a Game Council meeting. If possible, the timing of both presentations and discussions will occur during the same trip in order to cut down on expenses. In addition, regular communications are expected via internet (e.g. email) and telephone.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 27, 2016 to December 31, 2016.