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Satellite tracking of a killer whale (Orcinus orca) in the eastern Canadian Arctic documents ice avoidance and rapid, long-distance movement into the North Atlantic


Killer whales (Orcinus orca) occur in the eastern Canadian Arctic during the open-water season, but their seasonal movements in Arctic waters and overall distribution are poorly understood. During August 2009, satellite transmitters were deployed onto two killer whales in Admiralty Inlet, Baffin Island, Canada. A whale tracked for 90 days remained in Admiralty and Prince Regent Inlets from mid-August until early October, when locations overlapped aggregations of marine mammal prey species. While in Admiralty and Prince Regent Inlets, the whale traveled 96.1 ± 45.3 km day−1 (max 162.6 km day−1) and 120.1 ± 44.5 km day−1 (max 192.7 km day−1), respectively. Increasing ice cover in Prince Regent Inlet in late September and early October was avoided, and the whale left the region prior to heavy ice formation. The whale traveled an average of 159.4 ± 44.8 km day−1 (max 252.0 km day−1) along the east coast of Baffin Island and into the open North Atlantic by mid-November, covering over 5,400 km in approximately one month. This research marks the first time satellite telemetry has been used to study killer whale movements in the eastern Canadian Arctic and documents long-distance movement rarely observed in this species.

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This research was undertaken as part of the Orcas of the Canadian Arctic (OCA) research program and benefited from discussions with L. Barrett-Lennard, E. Chmelnitsky, B. Dunn, J. Ford, P. Hall, J. Higdon, J. Orr, P. Richard, and R. Stewart during planning stages. We are grateful for the support and assistance provided by the Ikajutit Hunters and Trappers Organization, Arctic Bay, Nunavut, and thank our local guide and boat captain Nataq Levi for fieldwork assistance. Financial and/or logistical support was received from the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Nunavut Implementation Fund (NIF), the International Governance Strategy (IGS), and the ArcticNet Centre of Excellence. Tagging procedures were approved by the DFO Freshwater Institute Animal Care Committee (AUP# FWI-ACC-2009-008) and permitted under DFO License to Fish for Scientific Purposes #S-09/10-1009-NU. E. Chmelnitsky, J. Ford, C. Guinet, P. Richard, and an anonymous reviewer read earlier versions of this manuscript and provided constructive comments for its improvement.

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Correspondence to Cory J. D. Matthews.

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Matthews, C.J.D., Luque, S.P., Petersen, S.D. et al. Satellite tracking of a killer whale (Orcinus orca) in the eastern Canadian Arctic documents ice avoidance and rapid, long-distance movement into the North Atlantic. Polar Biol 34, 1091–1096 (2011).

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