The results of satellite tracking and genetic studies done between 1996 and 2003 showed three distinct herds using different seasonal ranges (calving and, especially, rutting) in an area once thought of as one "Bluenose" caribou herd.
These genetically distinct herds are the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East herds. Since 2000, these animals have been surveyed and managed as distinct herds.
Cape Bathurst herd
The Cape Bathurst herd was estimated at about 19,300 animals in the early 1990s. Recent estimates for the herd were:
2005 2,400 animals
2006 2,600 animals
2009 1,900 animals
2012 2,400 animals
2015 approximately 2,260 animals
All harvest of the Cape Bathurst herd has been suspended since 2007. The herd’s calving grounds on the Cape Bathurst Peninsula are protected through the Community Conservation Plans and provisions in the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. The area is also recognized as a Critical Wildlife Area between May 15 and June 15.
The Bluenose-West herd was estimated at about 112,000 animals in 1992. Following a decline since then the most recent population estimate in 2012 indicates the herd in stable at minimum. Recent estimates of the herd are:
2005 20,800 animals
2006 18,000 animals
2009 18,000 animals
2012 20,000 animals
2015 approximately 15,000 animals
Resident, outfitted and commercial harvest of the Bluenose-West herd has been suspended since 2006. Aboriginal harvest of the herd is limited with a current quota of 345 animals for the Inuvialuit, 345 animals for General Hunting Licence holders in the Sahtu Region and 22 animals for the Gwich’in. An 80 percent bull harvest is recommended.
The Bluenose-East herd was estimated at 104,000 animals in 2000. The herd has declined except for a brief increase between 2006 and 2010 followed by another decline. Population data indicates the number of breeding cows in the herd has dropped by 50 percent from 34,000 in 2013 to 17,000 in 2015.
Recent estimates of the Bluenose-East herd are:
2005 66,600 animals
2006 66,200 animals
2010 between 103,000 and 122,000 animals
2015 estimated between 35,000 and 40,000 animals
Resident, outfitted and commercial harvest of the herd has been suspended since 2006.
There are no restrictions on Aboriginal harvest but a voluntary restriction of four percent of the estimated 2006 herd size was recommended by both the Sahtu Renewable Resources and Wek’eezhi Renewable Resources Boards.
A Management Plan for the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East herds has been finalized by the Advisory Committee for the Cooperation on Wildlife Management.
The Management Plan addresses the need to: develop a cooperative approach to managing for the herds; protect the habitat in the herds’ range; and, make decisions on the shared harvests in an open and fair manner. It was developed in consultation with most of the communities that harvest from the three herds.
The Bluenose Caribou Management Plan Community Report is a companion document to the Management Plan. It provides further community knowledge. A second report, Technical Report, summarizing scientific knowledge about these caribou herds also supports and informs the Management Plan.
Dolphin and Union caribou
The Dolphin and Union caribou look similar to Peary caribou but are larger and slightly darker with grey velvet covering their antlers. The population was considered as Peary caribou in the past but recent genetic studies indicate the animals are distinct from both barren-ground and Peary caribou.
Dolphin and Union caribou are restricted to Victoria Island and the nearby mainland coasts of Nunavut and the NWT. Population estimates from 1997 and 2007 show there are about 27,000 animals. The population is considered stable or slightly declining.
Tags for resident hunters in the NWT were reduced from five tags to two bulls-only tags in 2006. Current harvest levels may not be sustainable.
Dolphin and Union caribou are listed as a species of ‘Special Concern” under both the federal Species at Risk Act and the territorial Species at Risk (NWT) Act.
Barren-ground caribou herds in Alaska and Nunavut are also declining. The declining trend in Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds is consistent with generally declining trends in migratory tundra caribou herds in North America including the George River and Leaf River herds in Quebec/Labrador; Qaminirjuaq herd in Nunavut; and Teshekpuk herds in Alaska. The Porcupine herd is one of the few exceptions with an increasing trend.