For the last few years now, hundreds of dead geese have washed up on Cambridge Bay’s shores.
Local resident Sheldeen Emingak says it’s not the first time, “they’ve seen it happen last year”.
The event, which first made headlines in a 2017, may now be more of an annual demonstration of the species’ natural population control.
The dead geese were analyzed a few years back at the University of Calgary faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Findings concluded the young birds were not fit enough for the harsh weather conditions they experienced.
The causes of death were simple: exhaustion and salt-poisoning. “Some of these birds have salt glands but they’re not fully developed in young birds — if they consumed too much salt water, which they probably did, it can lead to salt toxicity,” explains Ray Alisauskas, a Research Scientist with the Department of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
In other words, more birds end up dying there because of the long flights they undertake over the Northwest passage to reach Nunavut’s mainland.
The journey includes some of the harshest flying conditions on Earth. Along with the cold Arctic weather, “sustained strong winds and fog” are common along the Northwest passage, explains another Department spokesperson.
“But why were they so malnourished? Has there been a change in food availability and habitat on their migration patterns?” wonders a curious reader in the first article’s comment section.
The answers could lie in the change in availability of sea ice over the years. One year before the die-off was first noticed, the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) noted in its monthly report:
“As of August 14, (2016) Arctic sea ice extent is tracking third lowest in the satellite record.”
“The southern route through the Northwest Passage appears to be largely free of ice,” concludes the research institute from its Advanced Scanning Microwave Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) data.