Welcome to On the Wild Side, WCS Canada’s e-newsletter. Through this newsletter we keep our colleagues and supporters informed about the great wildlife conservation work being done by WCS across Canada.
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WCS Captures Results | WCS in the Field |Talking Science
With climate change promising to open new ice-free seaways across the north, concerns are growing among local indigenous communities and scientists alike about the impact of increased ship traffic, particularly on marine mammals. Scientists like WCS Canada’s Don Reid are proposing a simple way to reduce the impact of greater arctic freight movement: speed limits. In a recent interview with Radio Canada International, Don points out that dropping ship speeds from 20-25 knots to 14 knots will help to reduce collisions with whales and other sea creatures and reduce the risk of critical accidents like ship groundings. And just like in your community, these speed limits could be “zoned” — higher limits in wide open seas and lower limits in narrow straits and other choke points.
WCS recently organized a conference between Alaskan Native communities and scientists to discuss the impact of ship traffic on one such choke point: the Bering Strait, soon to be the busy — and narrow — funnel for ships travelling through the Canadian and Russian arctic passages down to the Pacific Ocean. The straits and the Bering Sea are critically important habitat for marine mammals, including bowhead whales, beluga whales, walruses, several seal species, and polar bears. In spring and fall, almost the entire bowhead whale and walrus populations migrate through the narrow strait. But even land animals could be affected by increased ship traffic, Don says, pointing to caribou that cross ice between arctic islands and the mainland in the fall, ice that could now be ploughed open by late season ship traffic.
By bringing its scientific knowledge to the issue, WCS is helping local communities address the changes being wrought by climate change while helping policy makers better understand what needs to be done to protect these rich marine areas.
Walrus photo: © jmcdermid
A bird’s eye view of caribou
Eight hours a day in a tiny airplane with almost no heat and definitely no coffee isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there are few places WCS Canada Executive Director Justina Ray would rather be. And while late-winter aerial surveys of caribou and wolverine populations in Ontario’s north may be no joy ride, they are an invaluable tool for gaining a better understanding of species habitat use and abundance, including breeding success. This year, with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Justina and Associate Conservation Scientist Cheryl Chetkiewicz focused in on the Ring of Fire area in Northeastern Ontario that is on the cusp of major mining development. Justina reported her experiences on the fly to a growing legion of Earth Ranger followers, who have supported WCS Canada’s caribou conservation efforts. The Earth Rangers “Save the Reindeer” caribou campaign helped to partially fund the WCS survey work and raised awareness among kids from coast to coast about the importance of the boreal ecosystem, and we’d like to send out a big thank you for all their support.
Justina has also used her expertise to provide input to the federal government’s national caribou recovery planning work. This clear-eyed scientific input is critically important at a time when pressure is growing from mining and oil and gas companies to expand industrial activities in remaining caribou habitat.
Hot times for cold water fish
What will climate change mean for cold water fish like brook and lake trout? With the help of two Master’s students at Trent University, WCS Canada’s Dr. Jenni McDermid is researching the capacity of these cold water species to cope with rising lake temperatures, including assessing different responses between populations. Jenni’s team is rearing juvenile fish in a research hatchery and testing their tolerance to increasing water temperatures. This information will help managers and conservationists understand what the likely impact of climate change are on these species and whether stocking of populations exhibiting a greater tolerance for warmer water may help these species deal with a changing climate.
Photo: A newly hatched lake trout
On December 23rd, WCS Canada, with support from the WCS communications team in New York, placed an op-ed in the New York Times focusing on the threat to caribou posed by poorly planned development.
Check our website for other recent publications by WCS staff.
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada