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Center of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy: Scientific Research Report 2009-2011

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Center of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy: Scientific Research Report 2009-2011

Center of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy: Scientific Research Report 2009-2011 (PDF, 5.23 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 for her 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

The Centre of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy (CEMAM) of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is a virtual centre involving some forty professionals and support staff located in seven laboratories across the country. Research conducted by CEMAM is diverse, ranging from contaminant levels and their effects, population structure and dynamics, feeding ecology, habitat use and requirements, fisheries interactions and environmental impacts of development. Many species of marine mammals in Canada have shown little sign of recovery from over-exploitation in the past, others in the north are still under pressure from harvesting and still others have fully recovered and are not currently experiencing threats.

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 abundance species. The downturn in the world economy has led many governments to review how they deliver programs. This will have effects both on our research and on how we provide advice. At the same time, emerging issues require attention. Climate change although not new is becoming ever more evident. For example, declines in ice cover off the Atlantic will likely limit the southern breeding distribution of harp seals, and possibly favour the northward expansion of others species such as grey seals. This in turn may increase tension with fishers concerning their potential impacts on commercial fisheries. The decline in Arctic ice is expected to lead to increased marine traffic, to provide access to new areas for commercial development. At the same time it will dramatically reduce marine mammal habitat for some species, but may open up new habitat for formerly temperate species to shift northwards. Off Canada's West and East coasts, offshore development, and increased shipping particularly with Asia may also affect marine mammals. Therefore, a better understanding of the role marine mammals play in marine ecosystems, their habitat requirements, and the impacts of noise and cumulative effects of development are but a few of the issues that will need increased research and management advice in coming years.

Advances in technology, the development of multi-disciplinary databases, and more powerful analytical methods have had a major positive impact on marine mammal research. With the development of new sensors, marine mammals can now transmit oceanographic information from remote areas, difficult to sample by ship, to satellites. These data are being used by oceanographers to improve the accuracy of ocean circulation models. The use of miniaturized acoustic transmitters and receivers on marine mammals and their prey are providing new ways to study how marine mammals associate at sea and on predator-prey interactions. Biopsy sampling from large whales can now be used to provide information on stress levels and reproductive status in addition to information on diet, contaminants and genetics. New analyses involving multiple databases have improved our understanding of critical habitat, and the potential for range expansion, e.g. sea otters, to understand more about predator-prey interactions, and to identify ecologically biologically sensitive areas.

The benefits of CEMAM's work can only be fully realized when we ensure it is broadly accessible to others. In addition to the scientific literature, results from our work are available at the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) website, at our own website, through popular articles, interviews, lectures, and email alerts to new publications.

This report is only a sample of some of the activities undertaken by CEMAM researchers. It synthesizes results over several years. We have tried to provide a cross-section of activities that highlight new approaches, new findings as well as more general descriptions of phenomena that are affecting marine mammal populations within Canada.

Mike Hammill

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