Wildlife Wednesday: narwhals no longer “at risk” after population quadruples

Plus: the relationship between pollinators and plants, huge Sitka spruce climbed in B.C.’s Carmanah Valley, Georgian Bay turtles get new nests, and how nature became a Spotify artist

  • Jun 05, 2024
  • 1,100 words
  • 5 minutes
COSEWIC has deemed narwhals as a “not a risk” species. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0])
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Narwhals are no longer at risk, says the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). After a sizeable jump in population from the previous survey of around 40,000 in 2004 to now 160,000, it’s safe to say Nunavut’s narwhals are back. The species was previously listed under “special concern” but conservation strategies have helped the famous whales rebound back to stable numbers. 

While narwhals face many challenges in their survival including melting sea ice and a rise in boat traffic, scientists say they are adaptable and their population numbers reflect that. The report has also revealed that narwhals are sensitive to sound, saying that boat traffic compels them to move away, however this does not have a reported effect on mortality rates. 

COSEWIC says they came to their conclusion through examination of both western scientific insights and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (knowledge). “Narwhal [called qilalugaq tuugaalik in Inuktitut] are recognized as a cultural cornerstone by Inuit, the narwhal holds profound significance,” says Jason Akearok, executive director of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.

Going forward COSEWIC and Inuit will continue to work together to ensure the unicorns of the sea remain stable.

The need for bees

Bumblebees were one of the more frequent visitors to the Three Sisters Garden (Photo: Michael Hodgins/ Pexels)
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A recent study out of York University reveals new findings on the relationship between wild pollinators and plants. The researchers studied the different wild pollinator populations in a three sisters garden — an ancestral Indigenous growing method that involves the growth of multiple crops (usually squash, corn and common bean) simultaneously, including culturally important medicinal plants — in the Great Lakes region. By doing this, they aimed to provide information necessary to promote conservation of crucial pollinators in the region and support Indigenous food sovereignty. 

While previous research in the area has focused mainly on monocultured agricultural systems, the new study examines culturally significant plants and the connections between cultural diversity and biological diversity. 

Plant and pollinator populations are deeply dependent on each other and deficits of either can threaten global food security. The researchers identified 59 per cent of the wider bee population within the garden. The common eastern bumblebee and the hoary squash bee were two of the main visitors. The hoary squash bee is a key pollinator for both the garden and the squash making it a crucial pollinator to protect.


Holy Hydra!

Conservationists have located and climbed the largest Sitka spruce tree in the Carmanah Valley (Photo: TJ Watt)
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Soaring 71 metres in the air, conservationists have identified and climbed the largest known Sitka spruce tree in B.C.’s Carmanah Valley. The tree measures 3.89 metres wide at its base and its height exceed the length of two blue whales laying end to end. A sprawling crown spread average of 22 metres and five different stems forking off the main trunk earned the tree its nickname as “the Hydra Spruce.” 

Conservationists with the Ancient Forest Alliance located and climbed the tree deep in Vancouver Island’s Carmanah Valley. The valley is part of the protected area in Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park which resides in Ditidaht territory and is famous for its collection of old-growth Sitka spruces. 

“Seeing it from the ground was one thing, but we knew that to truly highlight the tree’s grandeur, we would need to climb to the top,” says Ancient Forest Alliance’s TJ Watt, who was part of the team that found the tree. Once identified, climbers used a giant tape measure to record the Hydra Spruce’s record-breaking, 21-story height, making it the fourth largest Sitka spruce in B.C..

MTV, welcome to my crib

Scientist-designed nests aim to boost Georgian Bay turtle populations (Photo: Hope Freeman/McMaster University)
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In 2019 Georgian Bay’s endangered turtles received newly designed nests from biologists aiming to stabilise the population. Five years on, the results are promising and researchers want to replicate the experiment. 

All eight turtle species in Ontario are considered at risk due to increasing habitat loss and degradation, and are often unable to find safe and appropriate places to lay their eggs. To help solve this, researchers from the University of Waterloo and McMaster University transplanted lichen and moss into rock crevices and rocky outcrops in areas with just enough soil to mimic the turtles’ natural nesting sites. These new habitats used the transplanted ground cover to incubate eggs, aiming to combat the low, 10 per cent egg hatching rate of the natural nests. The researchers say their new habitat produces a 41 per cent hatching probability, a crucial increase. 

In some turtle species, like those found in Georgian Bay, colder temperatures mean eggs hatch as male turtles while warmer temperatures produce females, posing a risk to the future of the population. Chantel Markle, a professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo and lead author of the study, hopes the creation of warm environments for Georgian Bay’s turtle inhabitants will ensure the stability of the local species. “Georgian Bay is one of the last remaining strongholds for some at-risk turtles in Ontario, so this new design is a step towards the survival of the species.”

After the positive outcome in Georgian Bay, researchers are now looking for new locations in the province to repeat their success.

Introducing your next headliner

Nature is now an artist on Spotify in an initiative aiming to raise conservation funds (Photo: Adam Kool on Unsplash)
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Nature is now a Spotify recording artist, thanks to a new initiative, “Sounds Right,” from the Museum for the United Nations that aims to raise money for conservation funds through song royalties. Artists with nature and wildlife sounds in their music can now credit Nature, the Spotify artist, on their songs to generate royalties. Charity EarthPercent then collects the royalties which they distribute to conservation funds around the world including The Ocean and Us and Cool Earth. According to Spotify, EarthPercent receives at least 50 per cent of the royalties from playlist “Sounds Right feat. Nature” and 70 per cent from the playlist “Ecosystem Tracks.” Forbes reports that Sounds Right is currently focused on conservation initiatives in regions including Madagascar, India, and the Tropical Andes. 

The charity advocates for artists to participate in this initiative by properly crediting any nature sounds included in their music, aiming to involve artists in conservation fundraising and raise awareness for the climate crisis. The initiative relies on artists and fans to participate, with artists choosing to credit Nature, and fans streaming the music.

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