Scientists and Inuit observers are trying to find out if a drastic decline in the Beverly caribou herd is continuing.
A major survey two years ago indicated the herd’s numbers had dropped to 124,000 animials, from 270,000 in the early 1990s.
"We don't know what the herd was doing during that long time," said regional biologist Mitch Campbell. "That's what makes this survey important. We're going after trend."
Last week, Campbell and other researchers were doing an aerial survey of the herd over its calving grounds around Queen Maud Gulf. They want to determine whether the decline is continuing.
"Most of the caribou populations in the north are cycling down," said Campbell. "It’s causing a lot of anxiety for a lot of hunters. We want to...give everybody time to work together to come up with solutions for the short term and until the caribou populations recover."
Inuit observers are also there to bring their traditional knowledge to the research.
"Like in the future people are going to be relying on them for country food, so we want them to be in their best health," said observer Leo Ikakhik.
Campbell says it is too early to say whether the herd is bouncing back or continuing to decline. Researchers will comb through the data in the months ahead and have an answer by the end of the year.
Campbell says confirming growth or decline is the first step toward understanding and protecting the herd.