Wildlife Contaminants Workshop 2015

2015 marks our 8th year of holding the Wildlife Contaminants Workshop (previously the Wildlife Dissection Workshop as funded by the Nasivvik Centre, née the Seabird Dissection Workshop under the Canada’s seabird International Polar Year project, and the 9th class Environmental Technology Program to take part (due to doing both the first year and second year class in all years of the workshop). The program is currently being funded by the Northern Contaminants Program, and hence why we now focus on wildlife contaminants rather than the broader health metrics and birds as indicators with which we started with.

This year we focused on seabirds (my personal favourite group) and seals (led by Derek Muir and Magali Hudon). We asked Derek if he would like to contribute after some feedback from students that it would be great to learn about seals. The workshop for many years just focused on seabirds (2007-2013), but in 2014 we added Mary Gamberg and caribou to the workshop roster with great success. The students love the hands-on aspect, and they are very interested in country food species, those that are still harvested and eaten today. This year to help with the seal dissections and learn about local traditions we also invited Glenn Williams from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI).

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With some seals that we got from a  local hunter Glenn taught the students about seal adaptations to living in northern waters. He showed the students how to prepare the seals so that the skin could be used for making fur products. Lastly, he had the students help him dissect the seal’s organs and tissues, and with the help of Derek and Magali, collect tissues for contaminant analysis. The seal meat was then collected and given to the food bank program at the Nunavut Arctic College.

We also did bird dissections again this year. Every year what we do is a bit different. This year we dissected northern fulmars that had been collected in the Labrador Sea. The students were trained to take over 20 samples and metrics from the birds that will be used to study a variety of contaminants including mercury and PCBs.

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We try to maximize any samples we take from these birds, so we end up taking many different things from each individual that we dissect. We are very excited to have these student dissected birds going on to be part of a project funded by MEOPAR, that will examine the links between plastics ingested and plastic-associated chemicals in bird tissues. For this project we collected a number of internal tissues as well as preening oil. We also took the stomach of the birds which will be examined for ingested plastics. The collection of both internal and external samples will allow us to test if we could do the same tests on live birds to test for plastic ingestion. We also collected feathers and blood this year for some collaborators in France who are conducting a pan-Arctic mercury study in seabirds.

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With the success of this year not even dimmed we have already starting thinking about next year. My vision for the future of the workshop is that it will continue to be a platform for people working on contaminants in the north can use to communicate their research and ideas to a group of people who are themselves training to be researchers, research reviewers and communicators, technicians and many other science roles in both northern and southern Canada. I think about it as a place to communicate with future communicators and decisions makers. The Environmental Technology Program students are the people who are going on to be on management boards, conservation authorities, and science teams. These students will likely be at the forefront between the public and research as they take jobs and positions in communities around the territory and beyond. An extremely important group of students!

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