Seal Diet and Condition in the ISR

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: biology, toxicology, parasites, bearded seals

Principal Investigator: Insley, Stephen J (12)
Licence Number: 16450
Organization: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
Licenced Year(s): 2019 2018
Issued: Jan 21, 2019

Objective(s): To design and maintain a long-term, locally-based, diet and condition data collection program focused on ringed seals and bearded seals in the Darnley Bay and Ulukhaktok areas of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT.

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

To accomplish the objectives, the research team have designed a program to work with the local communities of Paulatuk and Ulukhaktok in order to collect data on diet and condition of harvested bearded and ringed seals. Tissue and/or blood samples will also occur at the same time in order to conduct further analyses of diet (e.g. fatty acid and/or stable isotope) and pathology (virus exposure) and to estimate ages of individual seals. Diet/condition sampling is conducted in three basic onsite stages: 1) recording contextual 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 immediately 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). When stomach samples are processed, the stomach will be examined for parasites or other abnormalities. Whole seals as well as any abnormalities are photographed.

Tissue collection is likely to include: 1) liver sample for toxicology and genetics; 2) tissue, vibrissae and possibly blood for corticosterone (diet stress), disease, and stable isotope analysis; and 3) canine teeth for aging. The optimal and minimal size of each of these samples, and the best storage techniques (e.g. alcohol, Dimethyl sulfoxide, frozen) are to be determined at the time for the specific needs. Samples will be stored until processed.

There is a clear need for such a data collection program in the Darnley Bay area, especially in the area of the nearby Marine Protected Area (i.e. the Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam MPA) as well as during the winter in the Ulukhaktok area. There is also a need for such an effort to be long-term, self-sustaining, and standardized with other similar efforts in the ISR and beyond. The results are expected to provide valuable and timely information that is likely to be important for responding to ecosystem change.

The core of this project involves local involvement. It is community-based collection of ice seal data in the Paulatuk and Ulukhaktok regions.

Following data collection and after the data has been summarized the research team intend to share the results with the community during open Hunters and Trappers Committee meetings. The results are also to be shared with the wider ISR community during an Inuvialuit Game Council meeting each year. In addition, regular communications are expected via internet (e.g. email) and telephone and during other annual meetings attended by ISR community members.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from January 17, 2019 to December 31, 2019.