Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 04, 2012 - 9:38 am

Nunavut MLA claims DFO tracking devices disturb seals

"The devices make noises that disturb the seals"

SAMANTHA DAWSON

Hunters in Pangnirtung say they have noticed changes in behaviour of seals recently, suggesting these could be linked to tracking and transmitting devices on fish and whales that were deployed last fall by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Cumberland Sound, said Pangnirtung MLA Hezekiah Oshutapik May 30 in the Nunavut legislature.

“Why did they put those devices in the ocean without doing a study?” Oshutapik said.  “The devices make noises that disturb the seals, when they were not supposed to make any noise at all and now hunters have noticed it.”

Local hunters are noticing changes in the seal population, said Steve Ferguson, a research scientist with the DFO, adding that “we certainly take it seriously when local people tell us there’s something happening with their seals.”

But the devices used in two projects in the Cumberland Sound “wouldn’t have any effect on seals,” Ferguson told Nunatsiaq News.

The radio transmitters don’t emit any sounds that the seals can hear, he said.

Radio transmitters implanted into some Greenland halibut to track the feeding habits of beluga whales do omit a low frequency sound, but humans can’t hear that either, he said.

Devices used in a second DFO project listen to the sounds the beluga whales make.

But these devices don’t emit any sound either, “it just listens,” Ferguson said.

The purpose behind these two studies to make sure the belugas have a healthy population and all the food that they need.

As for the harp seal population in Nunavut waters, it’s mainly a concern because there seem to be too many of them, far more than the number of ring seals, although there are no exact population numbers, Ferguson said.

Ferguson plans to work with local hunters again in the summer to do more whale research near Pangnirtung, which will give them “an opportunity to see what kind of scientific methods we are using.”

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