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Research Spotlight: Zuzanna Kochanowicz

9 minute read

“Traditional Knowledge differs from Western science because of the way it is collected. Most of the knowledge in the community is passed on through oral storytelling. Just because it is conducted differently does not mean it is of any less value. It is important to remember that there are many different ways to collect and analyze data and that each method is just as valuable.” – Zuzanna Kochanowicz

Zuzanna Kochanowicz is a M.Sc. of Geography graduate from the University of Ottawa. She completed her Masters work in July 2020 on the potential impacts of ship traffic noise in the National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) of Tallurutiup Imanga under the supervision of Dr. Jackie Dawson. She has also worked on the Arctic Corridors Research Project where she digitized mapping data collected in various Inuit communities for infusing Inuit voices in policy and planning for the Low Impact Shipping Corridors framework. Zuzanna’s research was funded through MEOPAR and Clear Seas. Additionally, she received support from ArcticNet and the Nunavut General Monitoring Program.


Could you tell us about your research?

My research is about the potential impacts of ship source noise on marine mammals in Tallurutiup Imanga, a National Marine Conservation Area in Nunavut, Canada. This is very exciting research because it marks the beginning of the management of the area. Although Tallurutiup Imanga, commonly known as Lancaster Sound, has been important ecologically and culturally for centuries, the process to designate the area as a NMCA through Parks Canada was lengthy – only in August 2019 did it receive its official designation.

How does underwater noise in the Arctic impact marine mammals differently when compared to other ocean areas, and why is this a concern?

The Arctic is significantly quieter than other ocean areas because it is a lot more isolated. Due to the cold and unpredictability of ice coverage, few people choose to traverse its waters. The ambient noise is a lot quieter in Arctic waters when compared to marine areas where shipping occurs every day.

As a result, underwater noise in the Arctic impacts marine mammals differently than other ocean areas because they are not habituated to the noise. However, due to the recent increase in marine traffic through Arctic waters as a result of warming temperature and sea ice decline, Arctic marine mammals are being introduced to foreign noise at a rapid pace, especially because the shipping season has been expanding in the spring and fall shoulder seasons. Their unfamiliarity with noises poses significant risks to these marine mammals. For example, they might not notice a predator approaching because the noise is distracting.

How did you conduct your research?

I began with a general overview of ship traffic through Tallurutiup Imanga using the NORDREG database provided by the Canadian Coast Guard dating back to 1990. I then switched to using Automatic Identification System (AIS) data because it is more geographically precise. Using a subset of data collected from 2015 to 2018, I looked at the shipping trends in the area; namely what type of ships they were – cargo, commercial vessel, or tanker – and where these ships were going.

Next, I collaborated with marine biologist Dr. William Halliday of the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada who works specifically on noise modelling. Noise levels emitted vary depending on vessel type. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), has identified 120 decibels as a threshold for when the behaviours of marine mammals can be disturbed by noise. Using the ship traffic data, Dr Halliday created ship noise footprints.




We then identified the key marine mammals in the region: beluga whales, narwhals, and bowhead whales. These were chosen based on the most common marine mammals in Tallurutiup Imanga and the availability of data, which was acquired from a compilation of satellite telemetry data. I used a geospatial mapping software to map the estimated core use areas for these mammals, which were then overlapped with the noise footprint outputs to reveal how many potential behavioural disturbance events there could be in the area.

What are the key findings of your research?

In general, that potential noise events for marine mammals exist in the area. Specifically, in areas where there is higher traffic, there is a higher potential for source noise impact. For example, there is a mine on Baffin Island, the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation. The area surrounding Baffinland is a key area to focus on because the mine plays a large economic role in the surrounding communities. It is especially important to monitor areas like this considering that we expect shipping trends to increase in the future as more ice melts in the Arctic and the general demand for products increases.

How are Arctic communities managing increased shipping trends through the area?

In addition to my research project, I was able to collaborate with another researcher, Dr. Natalie Carter, who is part of Dr. Jackie Dawson’s lab, the Environment, Society, and Policy Group. Dr. Carter is the main researcher for the Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices Project. Dr. Carter consulted with key knowledge holders of 14 distinct communities on the impact shipping has had on their hunting practices and their culture, and on what suggestions they have for managing areas where high ship traffic exists.

I was able to incorporate the data that Dr. Carter collected from two communities, Pond Inlet and Resolute Bay, that use Tallurutiup Imanga into my research. I used this data to look at the overlaps with areas specifically identified as important for marine mammals by members of these communities.

What was your experience like in the Canadian Arctic, and how did it inform your understanding of Traditional Knowledge?

It was a wonderful trip to a part of the world that I had never seen before. Listening to the community members was an amazing experience; I loved hearing how passionate they are about projects that impact them.




In working with experienced researchers like Dr. Jackie Dawson and Dr. Natalie Carter, I learnt how to collaborate with Indigenous knowledge holders. I learned the importance of shaping research questions that ensure we as researchers encompass everything that those in the community want, and to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

What is the value of incorporating Traditional Knowledge into one’s research?

Traditional Knowledge1 differs from Western science because of the way it is collected. Most of the knowledge in the community is passed on through oral storytelling. Just because it is conducted differently does not mean it is of any less value. It is important to remember that there are many different ways to collect and analyze data.

Through my experience working with knowledge holders in the community, I learned first-hand how culturally important the land is for these communities. They have known this land for centuries, and as a result, the connection to the land is deeply embedded in family histories. Through active listening, researchers are better equipped to align research objectives with what the community wants and what the community deems important.

Working from a place of respect and being an open listener can lead to unique insights. I had a remarkable moment when I was presenting my research at a conference. During the question period of my presentation, a community member shared that many within their community were concerned about the increase of shipping and praised the research underway to ensure that the area is being adequately managed. To have someone comment that what I am doing is making a difference in their life is valuable.

How did you integrate Traditional Knowledge into your research project?

Besides using the estimated core use areas, I was able to incorporate the community data from the Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices Project as part of my project as well. Key knowledge holders, such as hunters, took part in a participatory mapping process, where they used maps to identify areas of use for specific marine mammals. I overlapped those outputs with the noise outputs gathered earlier and produced maps incorporating both types of data.

Through this process, it was revealed that although there was some overlap of the community identified areas and the areas identified using the satellite data, some areas identified by communities were larger for marine mammals. Using the community-identified regions of these marine mammals could help to establish areas of vessel avoidance or slowdown, then once scientific literature is published about the modelled or measured impact of underwater vessel noise in Tallurutiup Imanga the two types of knowledges should be considered and used in tandem to keep the management plans for the National Marine Conservation Area in motion.

Within the field of marine area management, how does the shift from animal-centred management to a more holistic ecosystem-based management system align with traditional knowledge practices?

Until recently, conservation management was species-specific. For example, researchers would look at specific mammals, where they were and how their populations were changing. Now, conservation management has become increasingly ecosystem-based. In short, ecosystem-based management is a holistic approach that takes into account not only marine mammals and where they are located but all sorts of interactions within the protected areas. These may include human interactions and disturbances.

Instead of being limited to the marine biologists, an ecosystem-based management approach includes everyone, from the communities as rightsholders to the stakeholders conducting research and business in the area. It is centred around gathering everyone together to assess and plan the management of the area. For example, Inuit who hunt in the area are a very important component to take into consideration when building a management strategy because they use and know the land. At its core, ecosystem-based management promotes collaboration and inclusion, which is similar in philosophy when compared to traditional knowledge practices.

What do you wish everyone knew about your research?

It has taken a long time to designate Tallurutiup Imanga as a NMCA. I think it is important to highlight that although the process is time-consuming, it does not mean that our research has to stop. We must keep adding to the knowledge and incorporating viewpoints of those who depend on the area for their survival, both physically and culturally.

How will your findings contribute to improving ocean governance and shaping policies for Arctic shipping?

My research is the first recent look at the area and the potential noise impacts. There was a study conducted by Finlay et al. in 1990 which focused on the responses of belugas and narwhals to icebreaker vessels transiting Tallurutiup Imanga. However, this was prior to its designation as a National Marine Conservation Area. Today, Parks Canada is in the process of creating their interim management plan specific to the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area. My research provides evidence of potential impacts for marine mammals and, consequently, impacts to the communities from both a cultural and ecological perspective. A direct contribution could be towards understanding what specific vessel mitigation and management measures to establish in those areas. There are limitations to the data currently available because the Canadian Arctic is not as developed as other areas.

What inspires you to do this work?

The urgency to protect and conserve the Canadian Arctic is a great motivator. The Arctic is changing fast. We need to generate data and results and look at the trends now, while these changes are happening and before it is too late to take action. That is where it started for me and where I continue to find inspiration.

Where can we learn more?

The report that I have already published, the Technical Report, can be found on the University of Ottawa’s digital repository. The community reports for the Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices Project can be found there, as well as on the Arctic Corridors Research project website. Visit the Arctic Corridors website to learn about project in detail and to see photographs of the community members who provided their assistance.

To learn more about our lab, Environment, Society and Policy Group, visit




#Clearfacts #Arcticshipping #underwaternoise #marinemammals

1 Traditional Knowledge is a body of knowledge specific to Indigenous people. It comes from their cultural heritage, traditional lifestyles and the strong relationship they cultivate with the natural environment. Traditional Knowledge includes deep understanding and insights into traditional subsistence and resource harvesting practices as well as extensive knowledge of environmentally sensitive and culturally significant coastal areas.

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