Netsilik MLA Emiliano Qirngnuq raised concern over the discovery of four beached bowhead whales, found dead approximately 60 km north of Kugaaruk in late October.
“There has been speculation that the cause of the whales’ death was an attack by orcas, and our hunters are concerned about the extent to which a changing climate and changing sea ice conditions have contributed to changes in wildlife behaviour,” Qirngnuq said in the legislative assembly on Wednesday, adding that it’s not the first time bowheads have been found lifeless in the area. “We have a responsibility to take action to ensure the health and sustainability of our wildlife populations.”
Premier and Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is overseeing the investigation. He noted that the Department of Environment’s conservation officer position in Kugaaruk is vacant.
“We are waiting to see if any samples will be sent out and who will get them from those bowhead whales,” said Savikataaq.
Qirngnuq asked what action the GN’s Climate Change Secretariat can take to prevent further whale deaths and other effects on wildlife.
Savikataaq replied, “We do have some programs set up to mitigate the effects of climate change. Mr. Speaker, I think we all realize that we can’t control climate change right now as it’s changing, but we’re doing our best in Nunavut to mitigate it. For wildlife species, it’s quite a complicated issue because with climate change, some wildlife species will be better off and some species will be worse off. We are studying any migratory or population shifts that might be the result of climate change, as there are many factors on the distribution and the populations of wildlife in Nunavut.”
The minister also acknowledged that diminishing ice in Arctic waters is leading to increasing shipping traffic and concerns have been relayed to the Government of Canada.
“If there are any major disasters that happen within Nunavut waters, we are not set up to deal with it if it’s on a large scale and we have no resources to deal with it,” Savikataaq said. “I have been talking with the federal government and my counterparts too on how we can have more infrastructure and more resources within Nunavut so that if there are any marine disasters, we can deal with it in a prompt safe