A team of Canadian scientists researching the impact of climate change on Pacific salmon during wintertime has returned to Victoria after a month-long expedition in the icy waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
The team is part of a research alliance with the United States and Russia working to understand how the increasingly extreme climate is affecting dwindling supplies of salmon. Their five-year project is called the International Year of the Salmon.
Director of the initiative Mark Saunders said scientists have been well aware of the increasingly poor survival of salmon in ocean environments since the mid-1990s.
“With recent dramatic marine heatwaves associated with climate change, we’ve seen this situation worsen, and yet we have very little understanding of the direct mechanism to explain this decline,” he said during the team’s return event Friday (March 25).
One of the least studied periods of the pacific salmon’s life cycle has been during the winter. So, in February, during the initiative’s final year of study, a research team took to the waters of the Gulf of Alaska to analyze where salmon go during the cold months of the year, what conditions they live in, and what predator and prey communities they encounter.
One of the team members was University of Victoria graduate student Nicholas Ens. Speaking Friday, he joked that when he told his friends and family he was going to spend a month on a coast guard vessel – Sir John Franklin – in freezing conditions, they thought he was insane. In truth, he said, it was an incredible learning experience.
Each day, they would sample the upper 50 metres of a section of the ocean with trolls. Inside the samples they would find everything from miniature organisms, to the minerals those organisms metabolize, to the creatures who eat those organisms, to the salmon who eat those creatures, Ens said.
Lead scientist and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) researcher Jackie King said one of the things they’ll be able to determine from that sampling in the coming weeks is where B.C.’s salmon stocks specifically go during the wintertime and how they are impacted by climate change.
All the research will inform DFO management, regional director Andrew Thomson said.
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