Center of Expertise in Marine Mammology: Scientific Research Report 2012-2014

Message from the Director of CEMAM

The Centre of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy (CEMAM) is a virtual centre within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Science sector involving some forty professionals and support staff located in five laboratories across the country, as well as at national headquarters. It was established in 2004, to promote collaboration, increase visibility and develop some critical-mass nationally within the Department’s science sector.

A key challenge in our science activities is to provide science advice to inform policy and programs for species ranging from those at risk to highly abundant species. Over the last couple of years, there have been important changes within CEMAM, as well as across the country in other sectors in the Department. While program review has modified our mandate and retirements have affected some of our research capacity, new researchers have joined CEMAM with new quantitative skills that are helping us to address new research challenges. These new challenges include collecting new data, as well as building new models or frameworks to improve our predictive capacity to evaluate potential impacts of increasing ocean noise levels on marine mammals, cumulative impacts of development, modeling predator-prey interactions and prey selection by marine mammals, and evaluating habitat needs for animals that in some cases involve large ocean basin features.

In Canada, many marine mammals are hunted commercially and for subsistence. They also generate considerable public interest as ‘charismatic megafauna’. The habitat needs of marine mammals extend across provincial, national and international boundaries. Their large size often limits the possibility of capture and handling, and their extensive movements result in several logistic challenges. In some cases, linking community observations from Inuit hunters with remote sensing imagery of ice conditions have provided insights into how the timing of beluga migrations have varied with climate change. At the other end of the scale, the deployment of satellite and acoustic transmitters independently or in collaboration with the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) at Dalhousie University is providing insights into blue whale, narwhal, beluga and grey seal movements and diving activity as well as interactions with other components in the ecosystem similarly equipped with telemetry devices (e.g. Atlantic cod, Bluefin tuna, Atlantic salmon). In addition, our long-term studies, such as those monitoring harp seal productivity since the 1950s, and changes in grey seal juvenile survival rates and killer whale survival and productivity since the 1970s, are unique datasets related to the ecology of large, long-lived mammalian predators that are helping us to understand population responses to changes in environmental conditions.

One of CEMAM’s strengths is its high level of inter-regional collaboration. In part this is necessary because marine mammals often straddle regional boundaries, but collaborations often extend further. This was evident in the completion of the High Arctic Cetacean Survey (HACS) during August 2013, which involved 12 researchers from three laboratories from different provinces flying in three aircraft to execute the first ever comprehensive survey of narwhal and bowhead in Canada’s North and to analyse the data. Results from this survey have recently been peer-reviewed and will be provided to our northern clients (e.g. Inuit co-management boards) in the coming year.

In this our third report, we highlight some of CEMAM’s activities for 2012-2013-2014. We hope you find this summary from the CEMAM team both interesting and instructive.

Mike Hammill
Director, CEMAM
Maurice Lamontagne Institute
Mont Joli-QC

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