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It’s time to listen: Earth Day, the coronavirus pandemic and wildlife

As we grapple with COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that people are only one part of the global puzzle

This is the web version of The Narwhal’s newsletter. Go here to sign up.

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is a milestone that comes at a precarious moment for our planet. As we grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to forget that people are only one part of the global puzzle.

But the world hasn’t come to a halt. Far from it. Just look to the farthest reaches of northern B.C., where life in the wild is going on uninterrupted.

Canadian lynx. Cow moose. Grey owls. Stone sheep. Grizzly bears. Cross foxes. Those are just some of the magnificent creatures photographer Ryan Dickie captured for this photo essay in The Narwhal.

“As an Indigenous person, I have always felt an inherent connection to our traditional territory and the creatures that inhabit it,” Dickie explains. 

“When I look back at a photo and gaze into an animal’s eyes, I can’t help but want to know what it knows. I certainly believe animals have value far beyond our surface-level existence and much to share. We just have to be willing and compelled to listen.”

Listening is exactly what researchers are doing off B.C.’s coast, where our underwater species have suddenly found a reprieve from ocean noise.

“We get this window, we get a snapshot into life without humans. And then when we come rushing back, that window will close,” Cornell University marine acoustician Michelle Fournet told The Narwhal.

Early research is already pointing to a reduction in decibel levels, a situation that could offer a glimpse into what life was like for marine mammals in a pre-industrial world.

And as the Arctic warms at an unprecedented rate, scientists are using genetics to study a species especially vulnerable to climate change: our publication’s namesake, the narwhal. 

Habitat availability has been critical to the survival of the so-called unicorns of the sea, and a hotter climate could push them away from their traditional homes in Canada’s Baffin Bay and Hudson’s Bay regions.

These are far from the only stories we’re following as we examine our impacts on animal habitats through industrial development. There are Indigenous Peoples grappling with declines in traditional food sources, endangered caribou losing land to a pipeline and a trout population seeing a massive population drop near coal mines.

It all brings to mind the words of our Editor-in-Chief Emma Gilchrist in her essay last month on COVID-19. The pandemic, she noted, is a reminder of “humanity’s ever-encroaching relationship with all other living things on this planet.”

We hope you are staying healthy and safe.

Arik Ligeti
Audience Engagement Editor

P.S. Are you spending way too much time on Zoom video chats with friends, family and co-workers? Brighten up your day with a custom Narwhal background. Go here to download a beautiful photo of the sunset at Victoria’s Clover Point, taken by our very own Carol Linnitt.

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The wild goes on

Lynx B.C. coronavirus

By Ryan Dickie

With the vast majority of the globe’s population under lockdown, it can feel as though the world has come to a sudden halt. And yet, in the farthest reaches of northern B.C., there remains a world that has, through all the COVID-19 turmoil, quietly and profoundly gone on as it always has. Read more.


11 things you need to know as Trudeau announces $1.7 billion to clean up ‘festering’ orphan and inactive wells

A Sequoia well site near Ponoka, Alta

By Sharon J. Riley

Federal funding will create jobs during the coronavirus crisis and help clean up environmental liabilities, but puts taxpayers on the hook for costs that were supposed to be paid by the oil and gas industry. Read more.


Whitehorse pilot project will cut reliance on fossil fuels for heating

Whitehorse Hydro Peter Mather

By Julien Gignac

Electric thermal storage units help smooth out peaks in demand, reducing the need for diesel and LNG generators. Read more.


Amid coronavirus pandemic, some B.C. communities brace for flooding as well

Grand Forks Flooding coronavirus The Narwhal Louis Bockner

By Ainslie Cruickshank

Communities right across the country, from New Brunswick to B.C., are facing the possibility of two public crises at once this spring. Read more.


Scientists use genetics to study how the world’s three narwhal populations are affected by climate shifts

Narwhal tusk Arctic

By Sarah Cox

Researchers used DNA testing and habitat modelling to examine past narwhal populations and predict what a warming future will mean for the mysterious sea creature of the Arctic. Read more.


The Narwhal in the world

We’re super-excited that the good folks at Reader’s Digest republished Sarah Cox’s in-depth feature about the world’s first spotted owl breeding centre in Langley, B.C.

The story takes an intimate look at the scientists who give around-the-clock medical care to these critically endangered creatures, hand- feeding them euthanized rodents in a last-ditch effort to save the species from Canadian extinction. All the while experts warn that the province has yet to recognize the endangered raptor as a symbol of our escalating failure to protect old-growth forests.


What we’re reading


Note from a Narwhal

“I just wanted to say thank you so much for all the amazing work you do. Your mastery at drawing connections between COVID-19 and the environment is invaluable during this unprecedented time. It’s also been so exciting to see your team grow and to learn all about the new editors and journalists you’ve brought on.” Thanks, Jaime! If you’re able, join Jaime and more than 1,200 others giving what they can every month. Become a monthly member of The Narwhal today.


When you’re vibing with quieter sea life. Tell your friends to get on that (sea) level by signing up for The Narwhal’s newsletter.

Arik Ligeti is The Narwhal’s audience engagement editor, with a focus on growing a dedicated community of members and readers.…

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