How to spot a narwhal: infrared cameras reveal elusive mammals

by Sachi Wickramasinghe, University of British Columbia 
August 11, 2021

Finding animals in the wild can be tough, even for researchers with access to airplanes, high-end cameras and other costly gear.

Many animals blend with their surroundings or hide in places that human eyes can’t reach. This is especially true of marine animals, who move under cover of water.

That’s why researchers from the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF), the University of Manitoba, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada were surprised when the infrared video camera they brought aboard their plane captured narwhals swimming off the coast of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.

We brought an infrared camera mostly to see if we could find walruses, seals, and polar bears on the ice, but when we looked at the infrared footage, we saw these narwhals swimming,” said Katie Florko, a University of British Columbia PhD student at the IOF and lead author of a newly published study about using infrared cameras to detect narwhals. “Narwhals only surface briefly, so we expected it would be challenging to accurately detect and count narwhals using infrared during our aerial surveys.”

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