Labrador ship's crew will begin tracking information about Arctic whales

It usually brings ore from Voisey's Bay, but now a ship that travels up Labrador's coast throughout the year will also help keep whales safe.

Umiak I, which travels the Arctic year-round, uniquely positioned to provide information on whale migration

The Umiak I travels in the Arctic or near Arctic all year, which makes its crew well-positioned to offer information on whale migration. (Provided by Fednav)

It usually focuses on transporting ore from Voisey's Bay, but now the Umiak I will add scientific whale research to its duties. 

The crew of the Umiak I, one of the largest vessels sailing off the Labrador coast, will help gather scientific data on whales seen on their journeys now that Fednav, the company that owns the ship, has joined a group of whale watchers called the Marine Mammal Observation Network. 

"We know that the shipping industry has an impact on the environment in which it operates and we just believe that this is our obligation to carry out sustainable activities and disrupt as little as possible the environment," said Marie-Andrée Giguère of Fednav.

The crew of the Umiak I has completed special training to help them properly identify the 13 whale species that live in the waters they navigate. (Provided by Fednav)

Crew members were trained in Quebec by Green Marine, an environmental certification program, to collect information about the whales. That training included tips on identifying different whale species by characteristics like their size, their blow, their colour, their shape and their behaviour. There are 13 types of whales within the waters sailed by the Umiak I, she said.

"We know that they know already a lot about whales, as they sail for years in these waters, but this is more tips," Giguère said.

Can contribute to marine management plans

The information collected by the Umiak I crew will add to the base of knowledge about whale migration by tracking whale populations and patterns.

"The thing is that we don't know a lot about the migration of some whales in the Arctic and the Labrador coast, so all observation will help the NGO, the government to establish a list of sensitive areas if needed," Giguère said.

The Umiak I is uniquely suited to collect that information because it sails in the Arctic or near Arctic year round, and Fednav is the only company with ships doing so, she said.

The research could help companies better understand shipping routes, and how they can be planned for the least impact on whale populations, and contribute to the development of marine management plans, she said.

Meanwhile, Fednav is talking with Green Marine and the Marine Mammal Observation Network about what they can do in the future that might help protect marine life along their shipping routes, Giguère said.

"If we can do more, we will do more."

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