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Researcher travels to Canadian Arctic to see how belugas are handling climate change

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Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Thursday, June 26, 2014, 2:52 PM -

Vancouver Aquarium research associate Valeria Vergara will spend approximately one month in the Canadian Arctic. She plans to observe communication between beluga whales and their calves to figure out the impacts melting glaciers have on their interaction. Vergara will conduct her research from July 3 until August 8 at Nunavut’s Arctic Watch wilderness lodge, continuing on research that initiated at the Vancouver Aquarium in 2002.

“The Arctic, as we all know, it is melting, and there is increasing access for all sorts of boat traffic,” Vergara said. “Belugas are a sound-centred species [and] acoustic communication is key to their survival.”

Boating traffic can now pass through areas that were once very quiet and serene, impacting the immediate surrounding for belugas. Vergara stresses that her research, however, will not infringe upon the personal environment of the whales.

“Up until now we were never able to record belugas at such high ranges but we have very good hydrophones this year. It's non-intrusive. We're not going to be there with a research boat, making noise” she notes. If belugas cannot communicate with each other, the researcher says there is plenty at stake.

“If the calf cannot remain physical contact with the adult, because they cannot hear each other, the calf could potentially die,” she said.

Vergara will be in Nunavut during the time of year when belugas and their newborn calves start to arrive.

The Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation is a non-profit organization that will provide accommodation and transportation during the course of her research.

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