Building Northern capacity to monitor wildlife health aims to protect seal, caribou and narwhal resources.


northern-coverThe Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) is partnering with the University of Calgary and the University of Prince Edward Island to launch two projects to build community capacity in wildlife health surveillance in the Canadian Arctic, combining indigenous and scientific knowledge to conserve wildlife and protect food security and safety in the Arctic.

The Nunavut Research Institute in partnership with Irving Shipbuilding Inc. recently awarded grants to each of the Alberta and Atlantic regions of the CWHC to study the health of ringed seal, the Dolphin and Union caribou herd, and narwhal populations in coastal Nunavut.

Dolphin and Union caribou (S. Kutz)

Dolphin and Union caribou (S. Kutz)

The North is currently experiencing dramatic and rapid environmental changes including climate change, increased marine traffic, industrial development, and invasion of new diseases and parasites.  All of this can impact the health of wild animals. Healthy wildlife are critical for ecosystem health and have particular importance to Inuit hunters and their families who rely on wild animals for nutrition.


U of C researchers to train communities to gather data on health of caribou, narwal

Dr. Susan Kutz, in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, and Director of the Alberta Regional Centre of the CWHC together with Dr. Sandra Black of the Faculties of Science and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary will work with communities

Dr. Sandie Black taking a blood sample from a narwal

Dr. Sandie Black taking a blood sample from a narwal

to develop critical northern capacity for wildlife health surveillance by training community members.  The collection of scientific data, traditional and local ecological knowledge will establish the health status of narwhal in the eastern Arctic and the Dolphin and Union caribou herd in the central Arctic.  Hunter-based sample/data collection, outbreak investigation and systematic gathering and interpretation of local and traditional ecological knowledge will enable early detection of wildlife health changes, identify potential human health threats and facilitate a rapid response to critical wildlife health issues.

“In this time of accelerated anthropogenic change in the Arctic, there is a clear need for northern communities and scientists to work together to monitor the health of wildlife, detect health changes, and respond rapidly and appropriately in order to protect human health, food safety and security, and conserve wildlife.” said Dr. Kutz.

Pond Inlet resident to collaborate on ringed seal health status

Pond Inlet researher James Simonee with his daughter in the foreground monitor a ringed seal breathing hole

Pond Inlet researher James Simonee with his daughter in the foreground monitor a ringed seal breathing hole

Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust, Director of the Atlantic Regional Centre of the CWHC based out of the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island is collaborating on a project to enhance knowledge of the current health status of the ringed seal population in the Baffin region.  The project will also develop research capacity for wildlife health with a local Inuk researcher, James Simonee from Pond Inlet. Blood and tissue samples will be collected from seals harvested by Inuit hunters and will be analyzed for potential exposure to some important pathogens and contaminants. The information generated will serve as a baseline to monitor future changes in the health status of the ringed seal population that may be associated with environmental challenges. Individual Inuit communities will be better equipped to assess the current health status of these seals and adopt measures that will ensure the safe and continuous use of this important food resource.

Building a northern wildlife health network

These research and capacity building activities, including integrating different knowledge systems and community engagement in the health monitoring process, can subsequently be used as a model for similar work in other species and in other communities and may provide the foundation of a formal curriculum in wildlife health surveillance at the Arctic College.  This work contributes to the CWHC’s Northern Strategy which aims to build a northern wildlife health surveillance network.  By working directly with communities, we will enable them to respond to and manage health issues that may arise in their wildlife resources.

Funding and partners:

Nunavut Research Institute and Irving Shipbuilding Inc
Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative
University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine
University of Prince Edward Island, Atlantic Veterinary College
Government of Nunavut, Department of Environment
Polar Knowledge Canada
Kugluktuk Hunters and Trappers Organization
Canada North Outfitting
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
World Wildlife Fund
Mittimatalik Hunter and Trappers Organization
Kitikmeot Inuit Association

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