Sanikiluaq 2012, duck dissections

One of the most valuable things you need when working in the field, especially in remote areas, is patience. After working through blizzards and half the town being sick with the flu, Mike and the hunters headed down to the floe edge around the south end of the island for a second attempt.  And to those who wait, good things come.  And when you are a bird biologist examining parasites, contaminants and disease dynamics a few coolers full of birds ready for dissection brought home by the hunters is pretty much the best thing to have happen. The hunters brought home 8 males (the white and black ones on the left) and 10 females (the brown  ones on the right).

Eiders in coolers

In order to do the dissections we have shipped a fair amount of gear to the north. While the hunters were out hunting, I had been working in the school getting all setup. I was given some space in the Patsaali School, which is the Sanikiluaq high school. The school is only a few years old and has some beautiful spaces, including this great sewing room where we were given a corner of the room as it was not being used much that week as the sewing teacher was one of the many out sick. You can see our garbage bag covered table to the left of the room.

Sewing room

So once we were set up, and had some birds in hand I was able to get to work.  In total we take 26 measurements and tissue samples from each eider that we collect. This includes several body metrics, oral and cloacal swabs for disease studies, feathers for genetics studies and a range of internal tissues for current contaminant studies, and for depositing into the National Wildlife Specimen Bank. Setting up all the equipment and labeling all the bags and jars often takes as long as the actual dissections, but this way we can make the most of having these birds and supply a number of different research teams with samples.

Dissection table

And a quick 10 to 25 minutes later, depending on the condition of the bird and whether I have help, the bird has been swabbed, dissected and all cleaned up and the different parts bagged, jarred, sealed and drying  ready to ship to different labs. Any carcasses that are left after dissections in the community get distributed to the hunters and others in need of some food. This particular bird went to a group of ladies from the community that make leather and fur mittens in a back room of the school each day (they later told me they snacked on the eider while working and it was all gone with 30 mintues).

Dissection done

While I did most of the duck dissections on my own, or with Mike’s help, I also was able to do several dissections with students at both the Paatsali High School and the Nuiyak Elementary School. The Nuiyak School also doubles as the Sanikiluaq Community Museum so it is a great place to work on a wildlife dissection with the kids.

Sanikiluaq Community School

Working with the students is always great and a challenge for both the researcher and the students . The grade 5s and up learn most of their subjects in English, but in Grade 4 and below all the subjects are taught in Inuktitut.  So in the elementary schools there are usually teaching assistants and teachers that translate what I am saying in English, in to Inuktitut, so the lesson is part science, and part English as the kids learn and follow in both languages.

Dissection with students

In northern communities where eider is a treat it is especially fun to dissect eiders with the kids as once we are done with the tissues from a fresh bird the teachers cut up the remaining meat and distribute it among the students.  Fun fact, when you eat country food such as eiders and caribou most people only get hungry once a day, when they eat store bought food they get hungry three times a day.

Eider Snack

So from collection in the field by local hunters to dissection in the schools to snacking on the eiders for an afternoon treat, these eiders are used to train, employ and teach several community groups and supply samples to numerous research projects studying bird health and eider duck population dynamics in the north.

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