July 7, 2011



Satellites, slowpokes and sport fish: McMaster researchers remotely tracking threatened turtles and popular pike in Georgian Bay


Hamilton, Ont. July 7, 2011McMaster researchers are using GPS devices and radio transmitters to learn how a threatened turtle and a popular sport fish move through and between sensitive wetlands.


A team of biologists is working on Beausoleil Island in Georgian Bay to follow the movements of Blanding’s turtles, in the hope of mapping the species’ essential foraging, nesting and overwintering sites to develop a better understanding of its movements
and habitats.



Another team is working nearby in eastern Georgian Bay to track the movements of northern pike.



Both teams are in the field this summer.


Bob Christensen, a master’s student in the Faculty of Science, said the turtle team hopes to determine which island areas should be protected and which could be recognized as “travel corridors” for turtles on the move.



As a result of wetland loss and fragmentation, among other factors, the Blanding’s turtle is listed as threatened and are protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.



The turtle, which can live 75 years or more, is recognizable by its high-domed shell and bright yellow throat and chin.


While tracking devices have been used in the past on sea turtles, the project is among the first to use such technology on smaller freshwater turtles – though the effort hasn’t come without its challenges.


“Much like you lose your cell-phone signal when underground, when the turtles hide under thick bush or in crevices, we lose the ability to track them via GPS,” said Pat Chow-Fraser, a professor of biology and Christensen’s faculty supervisor. “The device’s batteries also wear down quicker this way, so we’ve had to learn and adjust the way we do things along the way.”


Jon Midwood, a PhD candidate also supervised by Chow-Fraser, is using similar technology to study northern pike in eastern Georgian Bay. By surgically implanting radio transmitters into the fish, Midwood hopes to confirm that pike travel among multiple shoreline wetland areas.


“The Ontario Wetlands Evaluation System provides protection for wetlands that are greater than 2 hectares, but smaller wetlands can be linked together for protection should there be biological rationale,” said Midwood. “If we can prove that pike move throughout many of the small wetlands in the region, we can better make the case for protecting those areas.”


The research is important not only for species conservation, but for the sport-fishing industry, which is reliant on healthy populations of fish such as pike.


Christensen and Midwood plan to continue their work over the next two to three years.



McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is renowned for its innovation in both learning and discovery. It has a student population of 23,000, and more than 145,000 alumni in 128 countries.






To view and download photos of the researchers at work, please visit:






Field researchers are available for interviews, which can be arranged through the following co-ordinates:



Bob Christensen: bobchristensen@gmail.com




Jon Midwood: midwoodj@gmail.com
905-525-9140 ext 27461



For more information, please contact:



Wade Hemsworth

Media Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988