Barren-ground Caribou

Northern herds


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.

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.

Cape Bathurst herd

The Cape Bathurst herd was estimated at about 19,000 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               2,300 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.

Bluenose-West herd

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               21,000 animals

2006               18,000 animals

2009               18,000 animals

2012               20,000 animals

2015               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.

Bluenose-East herd

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 per cent from 34,000 in 2013 to 17,000 in 2015.

Recent estimates of the Bluenose-East herd are:

2005               67,000 animals

2006               66,000 animals

2010               121,000-123,000 animals

2013               68,000 animals

2015               39,000 animals

Resident, outfitted and commercial harvest of the herd has been suspended since 2006.

As of 2016, a total harvest of 750 bulls is allowed in Wek'èezhìi, but the actual harvest has been much lower in recent years.

As the primary harvesting community of the Bluenose-East herd in the Sahtú region, Délı̨nę has implemented its own community-based caribou conservation plan, which supports a limited harvest and allows for community self-regulation of caribou harvesting.

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 Technical Report provides recent scientific knowledge and status of these herds as well as gaps in knowledge and research suggestions are presented for consideration by the co-management boards responsible for managing for these herds.

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. They cross the frozen sea ice between Victoria Island and the mainland twice a year.

Population estimates from 1997, 2007 and 2015 show the population was above 30,000 in 1997, but has declined to about half that size as of 2015. Mortality of Dolphin and Union Caribou due to drowning (breaking through sea ice), as well as predation and hunting, is relatively high.

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. In 2017, COSEWIC re-assessed the status of Dolphin and Union caribou as Endangered in Canada.

A management plan for Dolphin and Union caribou in the NWT and Nunavut has been completed.