Spy technology for narwhals


Scientists will outfit 14 narwhals in the north Baffin with high tech “spot tags” in order to track the animals movements for the next year.

Jack Orr, field co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will arrive in Resolute Bay tomorrow, and then join 14 other scientists in a camp at Kakiak Point, across Admiralty Inlet from Arctic Bay.

The tags are about the size of two decks of cards, stacked together, and are attached by minor surgery once the narwhals are captured and tranquilized. “It’s basically like getting one ear pierced,” Orr says.

Each tag contains a miniature computer charged with lithium batteries and costs about $2,500. The tags report the animal’s position via satellite.

Nine narwhals will also be tagged in the Beaufort Sea by Tuktoyaktuk and the Nelson River this summer. The goal is to learn where different groups of animals travel during the winter and summer, and how much time they spend in Greenland waters.

A veterinarian from the Calgary Zoo is traveling with the researchers to study the effect of the procedure on the animals. An acoustic researcher will study the sounds and echoes the narwhals make.

National Geographic will also be on hand with its “critter cam.” The critter cam is a special TV camera that can be attached to the narwhals with suction cups, and produce video footage of how narwhals behave when humans aren’t around.

The camera is equipped with floats, so that it rises to the ocean’s surface once the suction cups release the animal.

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