July 23, 2012

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Every summer a whopping 57,000 beluga whales return to the western reaches of the Hudson Bay in Northern Canada. Once in the Hudson Bay the whales swim to two very specific locations: The estuaries of the Nelson and Churchill rivers. While the migration is recognized as one of the biggest migrations of belugas in the world, what drives them to these two specific estuaries remains a mystery.

In an attempt to better understand the strong homing instincts of the beluga whales, their feeding behaviors and the role they play in these estuary ecosystems a new three-year study has been launched. Mission Blue’s partner, the Pew Environment Group has teamed up with Canada’s Manitoba conservation Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the study.  The study seeks to enhance the overall understanding of belugas and their mysterious migration habits.

“We know it’s critical habitat for these whales, but we don’t know why, and we need to protect it,” said research team member Chris Debicki.

This year, the team is planning to spend a week at the Seal estuaries in northern Canada tagging 10 belugas. Each tagged beluga will be outfitted with tiny GPS transmitters that will feed data back to the research group. This stream of data should provide crucial insight on the beluga’s summer range and their migration routes.  Long-term, the research will help identify key habitats that could ensure the long-term survival, health and protection of the amazing beluga whales.

 

Top photo by Kate Stafford

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