During the current COVID crisis, neighbours helping neighbours has been the silver lining to some very dark clouds. We here at WCS Canada have benefitted from some help from our neighbours too – even if they are 3,000 km. away.
Our ongoing work to monitor whale populations in the Western Arctic using sound recorders could have ground to a halt when COVID hit. Remote and isolated Inuvialuit communities in the Western Arctic had some immediate concerns about the virus reaching their towns and hamlets, leading to a shutdown of non-essential travel.
Fortunately, our partners in the communities of Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories helped ensure the research continued. WCS Canada scientist Dr. William Halliday worked in his home office in Victoria, B.C. to prepare all the sound recording gear he would normally take to the field, and then shipped it to the two communities with help from staff in our Yukon office. There these large and unusual deliveries were unpacked and the equipment was boated out to monitoring sites by our local partners and deployed into the ocean for another season of data collection. The gear will stay there for a year, recording the songs, grunts and whistles of passing whales, helping both the Inuvialuit and WCS Canada to better understand whale movements in the region.
This work is important not only to helping Canada take steps to protect whales -- by lowering ship speed limits in protected areas and steering vessels away from sensitive areas, for example -- it is also important to the Inuvialuit.The bowhead and beluga whales that pass by Western Arctic communities have played a central role in Inuit cultures for centuries and continue to do so today. Indigenous stewardship of these whale populations will are critical to the survival of these populations in the face of a rapidly changing Arctic climate.