Edmonton researchers make arctic expedition in search of endangered species

WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton researchers travelled to Canada's northern-most arctic island in search of a rare species, that could be extinct.

The chair of NAIT’s Biological Sciences Technology program, Dave Critchley, is sharing his story of a journey many wouldn’t dare take: an expedition to Canada’s northern-most arctic island in search of a rare species, that could ‘very well’ be extinct.

Risking their lives in temperatures below -40 C, the group travelled over 3000 kilometres in May of this year to get to Ellesmere Island.

“The big focus that we initially put forward is to search for the ivory gulls. We have a 10-year lapse in knowledge about the ivory gulls which is an endangered bird species,” Critchley explained.

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“To have a fighting chance of finding any of these rare birds, the team used the latest in drone technology, but finding a place to re-charge their batteries was a whole other obstacle.

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“Alternate Energy is a program here at NAIT that helped us devise the interface between the batteries that we needed charged and a solar charging system,” Critchley said.

Using solar power and 24-hours of daylight, helped the team charge several batteries each day.

“We got amazing footage 4k video footage of habitat that nobody else has. The technology that we’re exposed to is so much more powerful than it was five years ago,” Critchley added.

Covering nearly 250 kilometres of terrain, the drones not only captured great footage but also kept them safe.

“We used [drones] on a daily basis, looking for crevasses, melt water channels, planning routes, looking for over hangs of snow, finding which side of a route or ridge would be safer to travel on,” Critchley said.

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As for finding the birds……

“Sadly we came back with zero ivory gulls discovered. So we didn’t actually visibly find any and there’s many different reasons that could be; one of them I’m hoping there isn’t, is that they’re gone,” Critchley said.

Critchely hopes the birds were just elsewhere, and he would like to take another trip in near future to find out.