You can plan your animal exploration with our expert outfitters
Whether you are silently staked out at the floe edge, waiting for narwhal and polar bears, or navigating through the clear blue ocean in search of seals and whales, there is a wildlife excursion in Nunavut that will bring your dreams to reality. Experiences and sightings across the range of our Arctic wildlife depends greatly on season and location. Our great animals are generally nomadic, and you will have to become nomadic in your search for them. But that first time you hear see a narwhal emerge from icy water and exhale sharply into the bright sunlight, you will feel something that few travellers in this world have felt. Peace. And your share of the awe of the Arctic. You can plan your search – for viewing, photography or trekking - with our expert outfitters, but here is some general information that will hopefully shape some of your planning. It is also important to remember that Inuit maintain a deep connection to their hunting culture, and rely on many of these animals for food and clothing. In all Nunavut communities, you will see the signs of this throughout each town and hamlet.
Polar Bears (Nanuq)
Majestic and ubiquitous, you can find Nanuq - the polar bear - throughout our territory. As most communities are located by the ocean, most places are within range of the bears. The best time to see Nanuq is usually in the fall, when they gather on the shorelines waiting for sea ice to form. This brings bears in close contact with many communities, but especially places like Arviat, Hall Beach, Pond Inlet, Naujaat and Resolute.
The polar bear is a clever and dangerous animal, with males weighing up to 700kgs and over 3m in length. They are extremely capable hunters, experts at catching seals and sometimes whales. Excellent swimmers, polar bears are known to swim in open oceans for hundreds of kilometers.
You can find these bears in various settings- from inside communities (Arviat has had to hold Halloween Trick or Treating inside the school gym because of the number of polar bears near the community), to the floe edge, where they will be in search of food.
There are few animals as unique and mysterious as narwhals. European explorers once held up their tusks as proof of the existence of unicorns, but the true animal they represent is much more interesting. These magnificent whales have tusks that measure up to 3m in length and it is still not fully known what they are for.
These whales are less ubiquitous than beluga but are still readily accessible in places such as Lancaster Sound, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay and Naujaat. Whether you view them from the shores in the summer and fall, or travel to the floe edge in the spring you will be in for a rare treat.
The beluga whale is common throughout Nunavut, especially in the Kivalliq and Baffin Region. You can look out from the shoreline and see them by the thousands. These curious and playful creatures are sometimes called “Sea Canaries” for the playful sounds that they emit. Beluga draw many larger predators, and in places where you see these whales you will find polar bears and orcas that are drawn to their pods. These dangers for beluga make them congregate around shallow water, allowing for relative easy viewing and photography.
Communities surrounding Hudson’s Bay, Cumberland Sound, Foxe Basin and Baffin Island, as well as some high arctic locations around Resolute are all ideal for Beluga viewing. Summer and fall are usually the best times of the year, and Outfitters can provide you personalized trips to interact with these wonderful animals.
To step across the tundra and come face to face with the muskox will leave you feeling in awe. These are historic animals of the far north, descended from the Pleistocene Era, 10,000 years ago, and uniquely suited to thrive grazing across the tundra regions of the high Arctic. These large shaggy animals have distinctive curved horns and exude a quiet strength and determination. Nunavut boats a population of over 60,000 muskox, scattered in smaller herds throughout the tundra in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot Region. The animals are prized for their warm and luxurious wool, qiviut. Qiviut is one of the lightest and warmest wools in the world – softer than cashmere and doesn’t shrink when wet. It keeps the musk ox warm in the winter and after being shed in the spring, is gathered by Inuit to make scarves, hats and hoods.
Local Outfitters in Cambridge Bay, Baker Lake, Gjoa Haven and Grise Fiord can bring you close to mighty muskox, who migrate nearby.
Central to the Inuit way of life, caribou move in vast herds throughout the territory. The experience of being surrounded by these herds of caribou is overwhelming- the earth shakes and there are even small temperature increases from the body heat of thousands of these majestic beats. To look out across the tundra and sense that the whole land is moving is a site that moves all of your senses. Local Outfitters will share their knowledge of their migration routes that measure in the hundreds of kilometers and their importance to the land and the people.
Baker Lake, Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet, Rankin Inlet, Naujaat, Kugaaruk, Whale Cove, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Resolute all have large local populations nearby. In recent years, the caribou population on Baffin Island have dropped off considerably. Local hunters and communities on Baffin Island are working closely with the Government of Nunavut to bring these populations back up to previous levels.
These enormous marine mammals are a unique visual delight in Nunavut. Famous for their lumbering and sometimes irritable nature, they are distinct because of their enormous tusks. Walrus spend their time on the sea ice, where they can hunt for their favourite food, bivalve mollusks. In the ocean they are graceful and powerful swimmers, but on the ice or on the land they can appear quite clumsy and disorganized. Only the strongest and best hunters used to be able to catch these powerful animals, but you will be able to capture them with your cameras under the tutelage of our capable Outfitters.
Walrus can be found near the communities of Arviat, Coral Harbour, Hall Beach, Igloolik, Kugaaruk, Grise Fiord, Pond Inlet, Naujaat, Kimmirut and Sanikiluaq.
Seals have become an important symbol of cultural heritage in Nunavut. And Inuit are experts on seals and their environment.
The territory boasts a population of over 2 million ringed seals and they are a deeply important part of Inuit life – especially the traditional diet and clothing. Seals have been a primary source of food and sealskin was a critical part of clothing and boots as well as the primary source of income for many families. Throughout the 1980s, anti-fur campaigns by animal rights activists led to the collapse of the sealskin economy in Nunavut. A resurgence of Inuit pride has led to Nunavut establishing local, arctic seal products as a sustainable and humane source of food and clothing.
Local outfitters will be able to bring you to view seals on the sea ice or in the open ocean. The beautiful and curious animals will delight you and you will find yourself constantly looking out for these wonderful animals. All coastal Nunavut communities have ready access to seals.
Bowhead Whales (Arviq)
Bowhead Whales are baleen whales and are the second largest whales in the world. They are amongst the longest living whales in the world, with lifespan up of to 200 years. These are creatures of the high arctic, living entirely in Arctic, high altitude waters and feeding on zooplankton.
Bowhead whales have seen dramatic changes as European and American whalers first came to our waters. The population of bowheads declined with intensive whaling and populations crashed to near extinction before a global moratorium was established. Still recovering, the world’s first bowhead whale sanctuary was created in 2009 in Nunavut, in the Nininganiq National Wildlife Area.
Bowhead populations are rebounding and can be seen throughout our Arctic waters, in particular in Lancaster Sound, Hudson’s Bay, Cumberland Sound, Foxe Basin and around Baffin Island. Outfitters in Cape Dorset, Hall Beach, Igloolik, Kugaaruk, Pangnirtung, Naujaat, Chesterfield Inlet, Kimmirut and Resolute can help you experience them.