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First healthy adult Atlantic whitefish seen since 2014

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For the first time in 4½ years, a healthy adult Atlantic whitefish has been discovered in its lone refuge outside Bridgewater, N.S.

The critically endangered relative of the Atlantic salmon — a 33-centimetre female — was found in a fish trap on Dec. 7, ending a worrisome drought.

“It’s the first adult whitefish we’ve seen since 2014. So it was a very exciting day,” said Andrew Breen of the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation.

No adults had been seen alive since the arrival of chain pickerel, a voracious invasive species that has become established in two of the three lakes that make up the Petite Riviere watershed — the only place on the planet where the Atlantic whitefish survives.

“With a species at risk like this, endangered as it is, seeing any of them is significant,” said Jeremy Broome, a biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

A hunch pays off

The rotary screw trap where the fish was captured has never been in the water this late in the year, but Breen was playing a hunch.

The trap is below the Milipsigate Lake dam which flows into Hebb Lake. It’s an area where small numbers of juvenile whitefish have been captured in the spring — a sign that some adults have survived to spawn.

Andrew Breen works with the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation. (CBC)

Breen left the trap in the water long enough to coincide with the whitefish spawning season.

“I always thought there was a good chance there would be fish in this area at this time of year and when I opened it up, I had this massive smile on my face.”

The fish was quickly released after a scale sample was taken.

Where did it come from?

Broome said the discovery raises more questions than it answers.

“We don’t know where this fish was going. We know this is when they spawn. We know there are other adults out there because we see larval and juveniles,” he said.

The 33-centimetre female Atlantic whitefish was found in a fish trap on Dec. 7. (CBC)

This week Broome and Breen have been installing cameras to see if they can find more adults near the trap.

“We’re interested to see is this a one-off, or is there a group of other fish following behind? We don’t know which of the lakes this fish originated from,” said Broome. 

“Did it fall from Milipsigate into Hebb or did it come from Hebb trying to get access upstream? These are the questions we don’t really know.”

In July, a dead adult Atlantic whitefish was found on Minamkeak Lake — the only lake in the watershed free from pickerel.

A hopeful sign

Bluenose Coastal Action has operated a rotary screw trap in the Petite Riviere watershed for six years without ever capturing an adult.

“Which suggests there aren’t very many of these Atlantic whitefish left,” said Amanda Lavers of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute.

“But it’s a hopeful sign. It’s a sign that if we put some more work into recovery, we can recover this species so it doesn’t go extinct.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has resisted calls to reinstate an Atlantic whitefish captive breeding program killed by the Harper government.

DFO argues there is no point to a captive breeding program if there is no safe place to release fish it produces.

DFO set to approve move of survivors

Meanwhile the number of juveniles being seen each spring in the Petite Riviere watershed has been dwindling.

This year, 28 were recovered and taken to the federal fish hatchery at Coldbrook, N.S. Three died.

DFO was going to release them back into the wild this fall but in early October accepted an offer from Dalhousie University to put them in its aquatron tank.

That transfer has not yet taken place awaiting finalization of necessary permits for species at risk.

Finalized permits are expected within the week, DFO spokesperson Stephen Bornais said in an email.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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