Much of the Great Bear Fjordland’s marine ecosystem merits further study. Fjordlands are highly dynamic places that are of great interest to oceanographers of all kinds: physical, chemical and biological. Many questions remain unanswered.
Furthermore, this fjordland is host to a remarkable concentration of hungry whales, including the predominately-offshore fin whale. The recent return of these endangered species may point to their recovery. We now have the unprecedented chance to study the inland aspects that had been extirpated from their natural history by commercial whaling. How do the great whales forage, socialize, and otherwise rely on these confined waterways? Conversely, how do fjordlands function when occupied by voracious whales? What is that like?
One crude oil and four liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline-tanker projects have been proposed for the Kitimat Marine Terminal in the Great Bear Rainforest. The tankers for these projects would transit the Gitga’at marine territory (also the study area of CetaceaLab and the Bangarang Project) as early as 2018. The oil proposal, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline (190-250 supertankers per annum), has passed its environmental assessment and is awaiting final approval from Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB). Two of the four LNG proposals (totaling 310-490 tankers per annum) have been approved by the NEB and are expected to begin construction in late 2014. These proposals would increase current deep-sea shipping rates in the study area by more than 500%.
THE BIG NEEDS
– Basic Ecological Monitoring: Many aspects of this remote, productive, dynamic habitat merit further study.
– Baselines: Before changes from tankers influence their habitat use/local abundance/interactions.Data are urgently needed regarding how and why whales are using this area and interacting with their prey and other predators,
– Critical Habitat Designation: Ecological and oceanographic data are needed to evaluate the Kitimat Fjord System as potential critical habitat for fin whales.
PREVIOUS & ONGOING RESEARCH
– Year-round photo-ID program for area whales (NCCS, Gitga’at).
– Year-round passive acoustic monitoring using moored hydrophone network (NCCS)
– Episodic but highly rigorous photo-ID, biopsy, and long-term satellite tagging of area fin whales (DFO)
– BC-wide surveys for fin whales in both nearshore and offshore habitats (DFO)
– Water column profiling, zooplankton tows, echosounder transects and seabird surveys.
– Detect trends in abundance and distribution throughout the summer
– Determine the oceanographic basis for those trends
– Document spatial associations and interactions among predators and prey
– Sample and observe the Kitimat Fjord Ecosystem at an unprecedented level of detail.
– Contributing photographs to DFO, the Gitga’at, and NCCS.
– Collecting data on behavior, social associations, acoustics, and habitat use.
– A focused case study of fin whales in confined waterways, adding a new chapter to this enormous animal’s natural history.