Wildlife Wednesday: blue shark sightings boom in the Bay of Fundy

Plus: a sticky new way to track polar bears, curious squirrel behaviour, Canada’s answer to the Galapagos and the algal experiment blasting off into space.

Blue sharks travel great distances but rarely stop in the Bay of Fundy. (Photo: Sean Landsman/Can Geo Photo Club)
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Blue sharks, a species rarely seen in the Bay of Fundy’s waters, have been spotted by biologists off Grand Manan, N.B., 31 times in the past week.

Great travelers, mature blue sharks move in a gyre — a large system of circulating currents in the ocean. They travel up the coast of the United States and into Canada, loop south of Iceland before heading south, skirting past western Europe and down towards the equator. They then begin the cycle again, swimming northwards. This gyre-surfing circuit continues for the rest of their lives.

While they were rarely seen in the Bay of Fundy in the past, a water temperature increase may be drawing blue sharks into the bay, explaining the bump in sightings. 

Despite this, blue shark populations are still considered to be declining due to issues related to fishing. The increase is most likely a temporary increase in distribution. 

Stick to it

More effective and less invasive tracking devices are needed to improve polar bear research. (Photo: 358611/Pixabay)
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The inventors of the Post-it Note are helping to develop a minimally invasive tracking device that will be trialed on polar bear populations in Hudson Bay this fall. 

Responding to a tech challenge posed by Polar Bears International to find less invasive ways to track polar bears, U.S. manufacturing company 3M are drawing on their ability to make things stick. As tracking hardware evolves and shrinks in size, existing tracking collars are increasingly outdated. Both cumbersome and invasive, they are only effective on female polar bears, slipping off males due to their necks being as wide as their heads. 

The adhesive tracker testing currently being carried out by 3M and Polar Bears International in Hudson Bay is in cooperation with Manitoba’s Polar Bear Alert Program. Some testing has already been carried out on captive polar bears in zoos and aquariums throughout North America. 

The trackers will temporarily stick to a bear’s fur, passing on their movement data until they fall off the bear sheds its fur. This is an improvement on another method, ear tags, which require permanent attachment. The goal is to gather vital information by following them through their long and dark Arctic winter or when they’re far away on the sea ice.


Splooting squirrels

The "splooting" position, when squirrels sprawl their legs and tail to lower their body temperature, is also used by other mammals to release heat. (Photo: Corey Seeman/Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0])
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Squirrels have been causing a stir. Last month, with summer temperatures soaring in New York, locals became concerned after spotting Eastern grey squirrels in odd positions, often to the point of reporting the site to officials.

With their belly flat down and limbs and tail outstretched, the squirrels do make an odd sight. But fear not, say city officials, they are simply “splooting,” a term used to describe squirrels’ method of cooling down on hot days. By spreading out on cool surfaces they release heat and regulate their body temperature. A bundle of blood vessels at the base of their tail enables them to dissipate heat more efficiently. The splooting position is also used by other mammals for the same reason.

Next time you run into a motionless squirrel sprawled on the ground, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. Or if it’s really hot, why not try splooting for yourself?

The Galapagos of the North

The Great Bear Sea, which was dubbed the "Galapagos of the North" in a recent interview, is a unique, biodiversity-rich area that stretches from the tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. (Photo: Green Fire Productions/Flickr [CC BY 2.0])
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The Galapagos Islands were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the late 1970s. Their unique geography and wildlife inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in the nineteenth century, and today they are part of one of the largest marine reserves in the world.

No one would blame you if you started daydreaming about snorkelling with marine iguanas in such a magical place, but if you live in Canada, you needn’t go so far.

The Great Bear Sea, which was dubbed the “Galapagos of the North” in a recent interview, is a unique, biodiversity-rich area that stretches from the tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. It provides ecosystem services that have supported 32 First Nation coastal communities for millennia, hosts some of the most productive temperate coastal waters in the world, and provides habitat for an incredible variety of marine mammals and other species. 

A big difference between our “Galapagos” and the one in the Southern Pacific Ocean, however, is the lack of a marine protected area. Now, First Nations and conservationists are calling for its protection as countless species in the area are declining due to intensive human activity.

Algal boom

This is the first time in 50 years that biological materials will leave lower Earth orbit. (Photo: NASA HQ PHOTO/Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0])
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When NASA’s delayed Artemis 1 mission eventually blasts off into space, four science experiments will be on board — including one from Canada.

Corey Nislow, pharmaceutical sciences professor at the University of British Columbia, is sending algae and yeast cultures for a 42-day sojourn in space. This is the first time in 50 years that biological materials will leave lower Earth orbit and, while orbiting the moon, the cultures will be exposed to the effects of cosmic rays and near zero gravity.

By studying the effects of these conditions on algae and yeast, Nislow hopes to garner information on how living organisms respond to them genetically. Yeast is a good model for human cells due to having somewhat similar genes, while algae was chosen as a model for plants as well as being a valuable source of food, molecular oxygen and hydrogen for fuel.

The knowledge gained from the experiment has the potential to help design better treatments for future space travelers as well as for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.


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