Jack Orr and Kristin Westdal work to tag a beluga during the 2012 Oceans North research project in the Seal River estuary of western Hudson Bay.

We lost a great friend this week. Jack Orr, who passed away at age 65 in New Westminster, B.C. on May 23, was a highly respected marine biologist and friend to northern communities, his colleagues, and the many students like me who he took under his wing and mentored in the field.

“Captain” Jack, as he was known, loved field work and the challenges it brought. He spent countless summers in the north, leading large research camps of scientists, hunters, elders and journalists from all over the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone wanted to be in one of Jack’s camps. A leader in marine mammal research in the Canadian Arctic and Nunavut, Jack developed the telemetry system in use today that provides snapshots into the daily and seasonal life of belugas and narwhals.

Jack started his career in 1981 at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Winnipeg as a marine mammal technician and continued in this position for 36 years, retiring a few short years ago. In that time he co-authored over 45 scientific papers, most of them about beluga and narwhal. If you have ever researched either species, you have surely seen his name.

My first remote camp with Jack was in 2007 near Naujaat, Nunavut. I was a young student and nervous but trying not to show it. I distinctly recall that before we left Winnipeg, Jack put his arm around me and said, “I’ve gotcha.” He was a master at putting people at ease, and always calm under pressure. When Jack directed you to grab the tusk of a narwhal, or take a deep breath before tackling a difficult task, you responded immediately because he commanded everyone’s respect and trust.

Jack Orr led the 2012 Oceans North beluga tagging project at the Seal River estuary in western Hudson Bay.

In 2012, he led a team with Oceans North on a two-year field program, tagging beluga whales in Western Hudson Bay and surveying their habitat. With Jack at the helm, the data we collected was, and continues to be, instrumental in our understanding of the beluga population in this region and will play an important role in guiding habitat protection. Through this project, and so many others, Jack’s legacy in the north will continue to inform future research. We are grateful for his dedication and extensive contributions to scientific knowledge that will benefit marine conservation efforts in Canada for years to come.

Jack Orr at Seal River, Manitoba during the 2012 Oceans North beluga tagging project in Hudson Bay.

We send our deepest condolences to Jack’s family and friends. His was a life well-lived, and taken far too soon. We’ll miss you.

Kristin Westdal is director of Arctic field science at Oceans North.

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