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First Project: Protecting Beluga Whales & Narwhals

Through Arctic Hope, we hope to establish the resources through equipment and training to assist arctic communities in preventing large groups of beluga whales and narwhals from becoming fatally trapped in the sea ice.

In the fall, whales may get trapped in closing pools in the ice as exit channels to the sea may freeze shut before the larger interior bays. Belugas and Narwhals also may be trapped in the spring where unpredictable weather may warm up prematurely, opening channels, which subsequently refreeze. The increasing presence of killer whales due to less ice may also keep smaller whales pinned into small bays longer into the freeze up.

Arctic Kingdom has been to two such occurrences in both the western and eastern arctic and observed two pools of up to forty of beluga whales at each location. A much larger third location had over 600 Narwhals. With increasing environmental changes and the prospect of increased ice breaker shipping traffic, the risk of such entrapments increases substantially.

There will not always be a solution to an entrapment depending upon the degree of the freeze up, thickness of the ice and distance to open water but there are many things that can be done to both prevent and handle such events. From advance scouting, both by local peoples on the ground and by air, we can identify such entrapments early in the spring or fall.

Heavy airboats, flat hulled boats propelled by an airplane propeller like a swamp boat, can be used early in the freeze up to break paths. Using hot water ice melting systems, large pools can be kept open or made in leap frog fashion towards open water. Airboats or amphibious vehicles can be equipped with large ice augers to bore breathing holes that lead to open water.

In some cases, technology to scare whales away from areas they are typically caught in or funding local boats to herd whales out of such areas may be appropriate and has been suggested as a possible permanent response. There is no one single solution and a coordinated approach in two arctic communities where such entrapments are most common will build the expertise and capabilities to deploy anywhere else where required.