Capturing beluga whale video in the Arctic for the Canadian Museum of Nature

CMN Beluga Cam

The bv02 team is happiest when working in the realms of education, culture and the environment, so in 2012 when we saw an opportunity to bring all of those interests together, we were ecstatic.

Our friends at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge were planning another summer of beluga whale observation in Cunningham Inlet at Somerset Island, Nunavut and began talks with us to set up a camera to record the animals’ activities. At the same time, our partner the Canadian Museum of Nature was searching for whale footage for their RBC Blue Water Gallery. With this serendipitous turn of events a new project was born, to set up a whale-watching camera in the north and live stream video to the Museum of Nature here in Ottawa. It was a project none of us will forget.

Every year, visitors to the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge are privy to a unique experience when over 2,000 beluga whales converge in the Cunningham Inlet to play and socialize. From mid-July through to the first week of August, these whales find their way to the Inlet to breed, raise their young and enjoy the warm river water. It’s an amazing thing to see, and we were thrilled to be able to help people experience it remotely.

About a month before the whales were expected at Arctic Watch, bv02 set up and began testing a streaming server to capture the video from the Inlet. Once captured, we would then need to convert and rebroadcast the video, so our team worked on using a series of applications to digest the signal and make it available over the internet and within the Museum. With that system in place, it was time to head up to the Arctic and install the hardware required to capture the video. This meant building a series of towers near the shore of Cunningham Inlet on which we mounted solar panels, a satellite dish and a camera, to broadcast the signal up to the streaming server.

This is where the project’s major challenge hit us. After successfully setting up the hardware, the weather at Somerset Island deteriorated rapidly. It went from sunny with highs of 20˚C to snowstorms with winds gusting up to 80 km/h overnight. When checking on the hardware after the storms had passed, all that remained were a few batteries and the satellite dish. The missing equipment turned up days later several kilometres down shore.

Although the hardware fell victim to the storm, we were able to capture some video of the whales beforehand, and that video was then projected in the RBC Blue Water Gallery and online on the Canadian Museum of Nature’s website. This gave museum visitors and researchers an opportunity to view the most recent migration of belugas to the Inlet and watch their behaviour.

Current plans are to iterate on the hardware to better withstand the special conditions in the Arctic and live stream the belugas during a future summer, as well as set up a similar installation to capture and stream the spring caribou migration at Arctic Haven, Arctic Watch’s sister resort in southern Nunavut. This project was an incredible learning experience for our team, and an amazing opportunity to work with the dedicated teams at Arctic Watch and the Canadian Museum of Nature.

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