Caribou in the NWT

Dolphin and Union Caribou

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 surveys in 1997, 2007, 2015 and 2018 show the population was above 30,000 in 1997 but declined to about 18,000 as of 2015, with a further decline to about 4,000 as of 2018. Traditional knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqagit have also noted a declining trend and changes in distribution of Dolphin and Union Caribou. 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 was completed in 2018.