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: 16298
Organization: University of Saskatchewan
Licenced Year(s): 2018 2017 2016 2015
Issued: Apr 30, 2018
Project Team: Adrian Hernandez Ortiz (PhD student, University of Saskatchewan), Lisa Loseto (Co investigator, DFO), Stéphane Lair (Co investigator, Université de Montréal)

Objective(s): To assess the health of the beluga population (body condition, abnormalities, parasites) in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and to compare results to other marine mammal populations in the Arctic and beluga elsewhere.

Project Description: The objectives of this project are: 1) to assess the health of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) beluga population (body condition, abnormalities, parasites); 2) to test for food borne parasites in beluga in the ISR (Toxoplasma, Trichinella); and, 3) to compare results to other marine mammal populations in the Arctic and beluga elsewhere

The research team weigh, measure, and systematically examine internal organs of harvested beluga for grossly visible abnormalities, and collect tissues for microscopic examination (histopathology). Blood samples are collected, usually from the heart, as well as tissue samples (meat, tongue, diaphragm, heart, brain, lung, etc.), for food borne parasites. The team have to use special tests for toxoplasma in beluga samples due to the high amounts of fat in the blood. Additionally, the team use the most sensitive test possible for the presence of Toxoplasma in the tissues of belugas, which is the sequence specific magnetic capture DNA extraction and real time technique. The research team are the only lab in Canada performing this test on wildlife and it is the new European Food Safety Authority gold standard.

Community based whale monitors are involved in beluga harvests on Hendrickson Island and East Whitefish each July, and have educational opportunities to learn about systematic internal examination of dead wildlife (necropsy), and collection, handling, and storage of samples for scientific research.
Community benefits include evidence to help make informed decisions about wildlife management and food safety. The goal is to encourage safe country food consumption, important culturally, nutritionally, and economically.

The research team will continue to give presentations at Fisheries Joint Management Committee (FJMC) meetings and at the Inuvialuit Final Agreement Research Day (on invitation). The team are working with Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, and public health and wildlife officials in the North to develop appropriate Knowledge Translation materials on the risks of toxoplasmosis in beluga for public health. The team also provide annual updates through the Polar website of the Aurora Institute as part of our NT research permit, and provide reports to the FJMC, the Inuvialuit Game Council/ Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Committees, and to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.


The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 1, 2018 to July 27, 2018.