Scientists go high-tech to track Arctic char in Frobisher Bay

Researchers monitoring northern oceans are preparing to use the latest technology to track the movements of Arctic char in Frobisher Bay, near Iqaluit, this week.

Researchers monitoring northern oceans are preparing to use the latest technology to track the movements of Arctic char in Frobisher Bay, near Iqaluit, this week.

Scientists from the international Ocean Tracking Network, which studies water bodies around the world, hope their char research can provide information on the health of marine environments in the North, especially in light of climate change.

"You want to monitor the environmental conditions and how animals respond to these conditions," said Aaron Spares, a graduate student working with network Arctic team leader Terry Dick, a zoologist from the University of Manitoba.

"If the water temperature warms up quite a bit and if it gets more fresh, how will Arctic char survive, and will they survive?"

The team is in the process of putting sound tags on about 60 Arctic char this week.

Later this week or next week, the researchers will launch a $150,000 Slocum Webb Glider, a yellow torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater vehicle, into Frobisher Bay.

The glider is programmed to measure water temperature, salinity, light and other factors, as well as track the tagged char. When a tagged fish swims within 800 metres of the glider's listening device, a device will scan information off the fish's sound chip.

"This is kind of like having a portable scanner, out roaming in the bay, so anytime a fish gets near it with a tag it goes 'ding!'" Spares said.

"And I know exactly who you are, and I know what time it is, and … where roughly that fish is, based on the position of the glider."

The glider will be in and around Iqaluit for three weeks, before venturing out to the Beaufort Sea.

Spares and Dick will use the data they collect to identify where the fish are moving and when — one reason the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association in Iqaluit is lending its full support to the research.

Speaking in Inuktitut, association chairman Joshua Kango told CBC News that Inuit want to know what's happening with Arctic char and what condition they will be in for future generations.

Area hunters are being asked by the researchers to come forward with beluga whale stomachs, so that the scientists can find out how many char the whales are eating.

Spares said Arctic char are a good indicator of changes in the ocean environment because they are in the middle of the natural food web, and everything from seals to humans want to eat them.

Spares added that he hopes to expand the char study to other marine species in the future.