Expedition to Davis Strait

As I pack my bags, I keep anti-nausea medications and lots of warm clothing and raingear high on the list. I am trying to be well prepared for rough weather. The last time I participated in a research cruise like this was in 2001. The weather was really stormy for the first four days of the trip—I felt really nauseous and threw up a lot.

A large ship and several boats near shore.

The Paamiut off the coast of Greenland during my first trip in 2001. Image: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

From September 18 to October 22, I will be working with a Canadian and Danish crew aboard the RV Paamiut to conduct a multi-species trawl survey. It will focus primarily on the distribution and abundance of Greenland Halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides).

Collage: Four fish, each on a measurement grid for length.

Top: The head of a Greenland Halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides). In flatfishes, both eyes are usually on the same side of the head. In the species depicted here, however, one of the eyes is on the top of the head. Middle: American Plaice (Hippoglossoides platessoides). Bottom: Two Arctic Staghorn Sculpins (Gymnocanthus tricuspis). Images: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

While you are reading this, I will be identifying and collecting fish species such as viperfish, lanternfish, deepwater gulpers and even a bioluminescent shark. I will also collect invertebrate species such as amphipods, shrimp, squid and sea cucumbers.

Collage: Three specimens, each on a measurement grid for length.

Top: A Lumpfish on an anemone. Middle: A sea slug (Careproctus reinhardtii). Bottom: A squid. Images: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

While the amphipod species that I see locally in Ottawa and Gatineau are the size of my baby fingernail, these northern amphipods can reach the size of my hand and, like the northern shrimp, are bright red. This is because red light does not penetrate far into the water; red looks black, thus rendering the shrimp really hard to see by predators.

Three specimens on a board, with a label that says, "This one's for Ed!"

Amphipods and a shrimp. Image: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

Davis Strait separates the deep waters of Baffin Bay to the north from the Labrador Sea to the south, in Nunavut. It forms part of the Northwest Passage and was named after John Davis, who was the leader of three voyages in the late 16th century.

A map showing relevant locations.

Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature, after a map by Natural Resources Canada

It is a large body of water, varying between 350 km and 600 km in width. It can also be very deep, reaching 3660 m, the deepest portion in the eastern Arctic. The surface waters are strongly affected by two major currents: the relatively warm West Greenland Current and the cold but nutrient-rich Labrador Current. A combination of different temperatures and depth, along with high productivity in the summer season, makes Davis Strait a hotspot of biodiversity for fishes in the Canadian Arctic.

Noel holds a large fish.

During the expedition to Davis Strait, Arctic-fish specialist Noel Alfonso will focus on the Greenland Halibut, a specimen of which he holds here.

Davis Strait is an ecosystem that has been heavily modified, beginning with large-scale whaling by Europeans in the 18th century and continuing with today’s commercial fisheries for species such as Greenland Halibut and northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis).

An iceberg.

One of the many icebergs that you encounter at any time in Davis Strait. Image: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

This research cruise will help to better understand these stocks. My involvement will add specimens to the museum’s Arctic collections from an area that has been poorly surveyed. I have a list of Arctic marine species that are not in the museum’s collection at all, plus another list of species that would be nice to obtain because we have only a few specimens.

We are always trying to increase the depth and breadth of our collections. Collecting in the Arctic is always challenging and expensive, so this is really a great opportunity.

Two specimens of coral in a collecting bucket.

Corals live in the cold water of Davis Strait. Image: Noel Alfonso © Canadian Museum of Nature

This entry was posted in Animals, Arctic, Collections, Fieldwork, Research, Species Discovery and Change and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Expedition to Davis Strait

  1. Sharron Walker says:

    Wow – blown away! Fabulous photos too! Thank you for sharing…..

  2. Pingback: Expedition to Davis Strait: Rough Seas, Cod-Liver Sandwiches and a Highly Diverse Marine Ecosystem to Study | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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