2006 Research Grant Recipient - Heather Penner
Watching the watchers
Heather Penner spent her summer vacation last year snorkelling with belugas — for a good
cause. If the Brandon University geography student has her way, visitors to Churchill, Man.,
will soon be able to observe the whales in their natural habitat without altering the animals'
The high concentration of belugas in the Seal, Nelson and Churchill river estuaries during
their spring migration to western Hudson Bay has made whale-watching the region's fastest-growing
tourist attraction. But there are no protocols in place in Churchill to prevent boats from
veering too close.
With funding from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Penner set out to measure the
distance between the animals and the boats, monitoring clusters of whales and recording their
She found that juvenile animals are more likely to approach tour boats, but they risk being
injured because "they're big mammals, and it's hard for them to move out of the way
quickly," says Penner. "We want a more controlled environment, such as a travelling
corridor, where tour boats move in straight lines." Penner will present her research
to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which plans to review its marine-mammal watching regulations.
— Ashlee Starratt