Wintering Grounds - A Scientist's Activities


November to February

Before 1990, caribou scientists were restricted in their travels by cold temperatures and dark arctic winters, so they only flew occasional surveys during the winter to see where the caribou were. Today, scientists depend mostly on satellite collars to provide a general picture of where the caribou are. These collars send a signal directly to a satellite in orbit around the earth. The satellite then relays the caribou's location to the scientist's computer. Sometimes in early winter, caribou scientists work with local hunters to gather biological samples from the animals they have killed for food. These samples help monitor the general health and condition of caribou in the herd.

Early winter is often a time for using helicopters to live-capture caribou in order to put on radio-collars or replace old collars that have failing batteries. In other areas, scientists use dart guns and drugs to capture large animals like caribou. Many people depend on harvesting Porcupine Herd caribou for subsistence food, however, and the hunting season runs almost all year long. Because there is a several-week waiting period before drugged animals are considered safe for humans to eat, scientists don't use drugs on Porcupine Herd caribou. Instead, they use net guns that fire a large net over the caribou to tangle it up. The scientists can then handle the caribou, weigh and measure it, draw a blood sample, and put a collar on it without having to use any drugs.

Return to A Caribou Year.