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Center of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy: Scientific Research Report 2006-2008

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Center of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy: Scientific Research Report 2006-2008

Center of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy: Scientific Research Report 2006-2008 (PDF, 7.27 MB)


This publication was made possible by the many DFO marine mammal scientists from across Canada providing input and guidance. We acknowledge support staff, reviewers and all those who made valuable contributions toward the production of this publication. In addition, we thank Christine Abraham, Estelle Couture and Kerri Swail for their hard work in compiling the report.

Specifically, we would like to thank the contributors who provided the text for this publication:

Message from the Director of CEMAM

Mike Hammill, the director of CEMAM
Photo: Garry Stenson

The Centre of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy (CEMAM) of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is a virtual centre that is based on the hard work and dedication of some forty professionals and support staff in seven laboratories across the country. Our mandate is to advise the Federal government on issues relating to marine mammals in Canada. When I first started with the Department, many years ago, the majority of questions we addressed focussed on stock assessment and providing advice on allowable catch levels. Over the years, our research, while continuing to assess populations, has expanded substantially to address such issues as evaluating impacts of industrial development (Fisheries Act), providing advice for critical habitat, recovery potential and recovery plans (Species at Risk Act), and providing advice on marine mammals in Marine Protected Areas and Large Ocean Management Areas (Oceans Act).

The strength of CEMAM depends on the mix of skills within the Centre and how these skills are deployed within the organization across the country. Like many groups within the Department, our workforce is ageing and we must look seriously at how we can renew over the next few years. This renewal will require maintaining our quantitative expertise in assessing populations, as well as hiring people with different skill sets and providing learning opportunities to address the diversity in requests for advice that we receive. Some new challenges can be expected as well. These include trying to define critical habitat in the marine environment, which has historically been viewed from a regional scale within the Department, but must be regarded within the context of the ocean basin to account for the large spatial scales over which many of these large mammals range. Other new challenges include evaluating the impacts of increasing noise levels in the ocean on marine mammal foraging and communication, as well as changing environmental conditions associated with global climate change.

While providing advice is the major component in our mandate, CEMAM scientists are also involved in fundamental, leading edge science. This research includes such activities as our participation in the international Trans-North Atlantic Sighting Surveys, of which the Canadian component provided the first estimates of abundance and distribution of many cetaceans, turtles and basking sharks along the Canada Atlantic coast. Also, we have been active in the development of a new framework for the management of seals, deployments of cameras on seals to study foraging behaviour; studying habitat use of blue whales and beluga using time-depth recorders and developing new data analyses approaches; documenting the increase in observations of killer whales in the Arctic, looking at movements of satellite equipped seals, and reactions of bowhead whales to seismic activity; studying killer whale predation on other cetaceans, completing the first ever Pacific-wide estimate of humpback whale abundance, or the ongoing changes in killer whale survival and its tight link to Chinook salmon stocks.

Since 2006, CEMAM scientists have trained over 60 highly qualified personnel. These MSc, PhD and Post-doc graduates are making significant contributions to our understanding of marine mammals and their role in marine ecosystems. At the same time, their research programs often lead them to work alongside stakeholders with very diverse backgrounds. These opportunities provide them with first hand experience to see how their research impacts on Canadians. These new scientists are the future of marine mammal research in Canada and internationally.

In our first report, we highlighted the different approaches used to address questions such as looking at diet composition or assessing abundance. In this, our second report, we have focussed more on some of the diverse research results achieved over the last three years.

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