Emily Choy, an explorer in the far North
Celebrating U of M Graduate Students
University of Manitoba graduate students do meaningful research that shows us time and again: discovery happens here. We have 47 doctoral and 90 master’s programs that give students—like Emily Choy—the opportunity to change the way the world thinks.
How does Emily Choy describe the communities who call the Arctic home?
The biological sciences PhD student explains, “They are such warm, generous people.”
And their knowledge runs deep.
“There is a wealth of ecological information from traditional knowledge,” Choy notes.
She has made several visits to the Far North, where her research is helping to unravel the mysteries of the Arctic. Choy was a member of an expedition that found the sunken ship of a historic British mission from nearly two centuries ago. In 2014, scientists located one of the vessels from Sir John Franklin’s attempt to chart the North West passage.
“It was a really amazing experience,” says Choy. “It’s one of Canada’s greatest mysteries.”
Her role in the Franklin expedition was to disseminate her research to fellow scientists and help the Royal Canadian Geographical Society develop a curriculum on life in the Arctic. The Freshwater Institute researcher works closely with Arctic communities near the Beaufort Sea, studying the effects of climate change on beluga whales. The whales remain a major food source for Inuvialuit communities in the North West Territories. Choy lives with locals and collects samples as they hunt, looking for variations in the whales’ diet and activities. “There are so many unknowns because they are so difficult to study. The Arctic is a challenging environment,” she says.
Choy has always been interested in caring for creatures and learning more about different species. As a kid she spent her summers at her grandparents’ cottage in Ontario, where she set up her own ‘hospital’ for damselflies. “I would find injured damselflies, with their wings trapped in spider webs,” she recalls. “I loved to catch frogs and snakes. I love the outdoors and nature.”
Every year, Choy sees the impact of climate change in the Arctic first-hand, as the shorelines continue to recede on the islands where her field camp is located. Residents have shared with her their concerns about the future, and their traditions and culture.
The Franklin ship was found in a location which Indigenous oral history had long predicted it would be. “I hope that I was able to present—in terms of the science perspective—how important it is to work with communities up North,” says Choy.
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