Satellite tracking is an effective way to understand marine mammal movement, behaviour and habitat. This type of research has been used to study belugas and other cetaceans since the early 1980's. The satellite tracking system consists of a satellite transmitter called a platform terminal transmitter (PTT) attached to the animal, the ARGOS System which uses an array of polar-orbiting satellites, and ground based receiving and processing stations that receives the satellite data and calculates location and other information. Location qualities are assigned to each location provided by ARGOS and express the degree of accuracy associated with that location.
In July of 2012, as part of a larger longer term monitoring program in Hudson Bay, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Oceans North Canada tagged six belugas in the Seal River estuary. Maps and more information on this year of work can be found on the Oceans North Canada website and the Hudson Bay Beluga Project mapping page.
In July of 2015, nine belugas were tagged in the Churchill river by a team from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The maps below show unfiltered, good quality locations – with most positions accurate to within 350 meters (note that some positions may appear to be on land due to close proximity of whales to the shoreline). The large squares on the maps show the most recent position of each whale by tag ID# number and the small boxes show where they have been. Lines connect the points and show general line of travel.
Click on the images below to enlarge and read more about weekly movements.
The last satellite uplink from all animals tagged in the Churchill River estuary was on December 16th 2015. We had hoped the tags would last longer in order to gather data on their winter range and spring migration back to southwestern Hudson Bay, however they did provide us with important summer and fall movement and diving behaviour. Data will be analyzed over the coming year and information will be shared here as it becomes available.
Aerial surveys are used to count animals within a population. The are designed to cover a portion of the assumed habitat. Mathematical models are used to create an estimate based on the number of animals seen.
An aerial survey of southern and western Hudson Bay belugas was conducted in July and August of 2015 by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. A combination of a visual and photographic survey, it is being used to estimate numbers of belugas and distribution in the region. The survey was conducted using a twin otter based out of Churchill Manitoba, and Rankin Inlet and Repulse Bay Nunavut. The last beluga survey in the region was conducted in 2004 and estimated a population of 57,300 animals, corrected for availability bias (accounting for animals that are invisible to the survey due to diving behavior), for western Hudson Bay. Below is an example of one photograph taken in the Seal River estuary. The photograph is divided into grids for the purposes of counting animals. Number of animals, age, environmental variables, and location are recorded for each photo. This information is then used to calculate a population estimate. A sample of the data entered is shown below. Further information will be posted as the data is analysed.
Strip transects or distance sampling methods are commonly used to study marine life by boat. Survey transects are navigated by boat at a slow speed (6-8 knots) while trained observers record species information and activity in a pre determined distance from the boat or as far as the observer can see.
A boat-based strip transect survey was conducted near the Seal River estuary in July 2013 by Oceans North Canada. The area covered was approximately 55 km from north to south and 10km offshore and followed pre-determined transect lines perpendicular to shore and 5 km apart. In conjunction with satellite tagging data acquired during 2012-2013 and 2015, the boat-based survey provided a closer look at habitat use, based on activity and density, and may also provide insight into why specific areas within the summer range are used.