Fox pants, fish tales and mammoth bones: CBC North's best animal stories of 2016

Everybody loves a good critter story and in the North, amazing animal tales are truly one of our greatest natural resources.

Every year brings a new herd of wild and woolly tales, and 2016 did not disappoint

Sometimes pictures tell the story as well as anything. Yukon photographer Peter Mather won an international award this year for this iconic shot of a spawning chinook salmon in Yukon's Tatchun Creek. (Peter Mather)

Everybody loves a good critter story and in the North, amazing animal tales are truly one of our greatest natural resources. Some are comic, others tragic, heart-warming, awe-inspiring, or simply baffling. 

And many of them could only happen in Canada's North.

Here's a look back at some of our wildest — and most popular — animal stories from the past year.

A wolf, a bear, and a crazy plan

This one came right from the you-couldn't-make-this-stuff-up file — it involved an aggressive, hungry wolf, a protective mama bear, and an N.W.T. woman who likely saved her own hide by pitting the two animals against each other.

Joanne Barnaby was picking morel mushrooms in the woods near Fort Smith in June when she found herself confronted by a wolf. What followed was a grueling 12-hour hunt, deep into the woods. The wolf would not relent.

Joanne Barnaby (left) when she was reunited with her friend Tammy Cauldron. Barnaby was stalked in the bush for 12 hours by a wolf. (Submitted by Joanne Barnaby)

That's enough of a story in itself, but things took a bizarre turn when Barnaby and the wolf happened near a bear and her cub. Barnaby then took a wild and dangerous gamble — she lured the wolf towards the bear cub. 

Mama bear could not abide, so a fight broke out between bear and wolf and Barnaby was able to quietly slip away and find her way to safety.

"It most definitely was unusual," Barnaby later said, showing herself to be a master of understatement as well as survival.

Emergency fox pants

Nunavut is never short of great survival stories, but this one was particularly memorable — for the ingenuity demonstrated by a skilled hunter, and for the foxy pants he made.

Jimmy Iqaluq (left), shown here with his family, used quick thinking to save himself after falling through the ice near Sanikiluaq in February. (submitted by Sarah Meeko)
Jimmy Iqaluq was hunting polar bear alone on the sea ice near his community of Sanikiluaq last February when he fell through the ice. His snowmachine, and gear, sank. Iqaluq managed to scramble out of the water and then built himself an igloo for shelter. But his pants were soaked and his legs were getting numb.

Solution? New pants.

Iqaluq had caught a fox earlier that day, so he pulled the skin off and voilá — new fur trousers that kept him toasty until rescuers came the next day.

Stunning photos

Yukon can be a photographer's paradise — especially if the photographer has a thing for animals.

Stan and Melody McKenzie of Haines Junction, Yukon hit the wildlife photo jackpot in March, when they spotted a mother lynx and five kittens sunning themselves on the Haines Road.

The McKenzies managed to take a bunch of amazing photos before the animals slipped off into the woods, and no surprise — the photos proved to be internet gold.

When Stan and Melody McKenzie went for a drive along the Haines Road in Yukon last March, they hoped to see a lynx along the way. They actually saw several. (Submitted by Melody McKenzie)

Yukon photographer Peter Mather also made waves this year with some of his stunning shots. He won three awards in an international photo contest — including an award for an awesome (and technically challenging) salmon-under-Northern-Lights shot.

Mather also wowed people with a series of intimate shots he took this summer of the migrating Porcupine caribou herd, in northern Yukon. 

​Nunavut's Glenn Williams also shared some captivating shots of a community walrus hunt near Iqaluit this past fall. The 14-person hunting party went out on a two-day trip and returned with four walrus.

For some young hunters in the party, it was the first time they were able to harvest the awesome animals — and Williams' pictures capture the joy and excitement of the moment.

'It was exciting,' says 11-year-old Aiden Williams, the youngest hunter on the crew that went on a 2-day community walrus hunt last fall, from Iqaluit. (Glenn Williams)

Fish tales

Last year may have given us that freakish neon green jackfish, but 2016 offered some pretty cool fish stories too — from a huge and possibly record-breaking loche caught in Aklavik, N.W.T., to the first salmon harvested in more than a decade by a Yukon First Nation.

The 1.12 metre long, 12.7 kilogram loche (or burbot) was caught last fall by James Blake in Aklavik. It was more than a kilogram heavier than the current record for loche, but Blake's still waiting for the International Game Fish Association to review his catch and confirm his world record.

James Blake of Aklavik caught this loche and said he was left speechless. (submitted by James Blake)

His angling secret? 

"No secrets," he said, "I just use the same thing as everybody else."

Another fish made news this year in Nunavut, although it was actually caught a few years ago. It was no record-breaker, but it did serve to confirm for scientists what Inuit have been saying for years — Atlantic salmon can be found off Baffin Island.

The salmon was caught in 2012 near Clyde River, where you'd more typically land Arctic char. The head was frozen and sent for genetic testing, and earlier this year the results finally came — it was indeed a salmon.

For researchers, it was another indication that the Arctic is changing, with warmer marine temperatures allowing species to range further afield.

Salmon also made news in Yukon this year, where the Teslin Tlingit Council lifted a self-imposed 17-year moratorium on chinook salmon fishing.

The First Nation held a fish camp on Teslin Lake in August, and netted three fish. Not enough to feed the entire village, but plenty cause for celebration nonetheless.

This was one of the first chinook salmon harvested by the Teslin Tlingit Council in 17 years. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"This is part of who we are, who we are as Tlingit," said Duane Aucoin of the Teslin Tlingit Council. "It's welcoming home our family."

Mammoth bones and horse skulls

Yukon had a bunch of other great animal stories this year, some involving beasts long dead, or even extinct.
Robert Kyikavichik of Old Crow, Yukon, with a woolly mammoth bone he found outside the community in June. (submitted by Marla Charlie)

Archaeologists have been digging up bones and fossils in Yukon for years, so there's nothing particularly remarkable about finding new ones.

But Roger Kyikavichik of Old Crow found a real whopper, while out duck hunting on the Crow River in June — a huge woolly mammoth femur bone, apparently intact, and sticking up out of the water.

"Pretty impressive," according to a Yukon government paleontologist.

There was another neat find that month in the Carcross desert — not nearly as old, but still valuable to researchers. A century-old horse skeleton, stumbled upon by tourists.

The old horse skull that was plucked from Yukon's Carcross desert last summer. Government archaeologists are pleased to now have a complete horse skeleton, for research purposes. (Vic Istchenko/CBC)

The story of the find took a more interesting turn when someone made off with the gnarled, desiccated skull, hours after its partial resurrection.

Archaeologists issued a plea for its return, and a week later someone delivered it to the office of a local newspaper. Skull and bones were reunited. 

Menacing bears and wolverines

Besides Joanne Barnaby's adventures with wolf and bear, there were still more stories this year about Northerners facing down a potential four-legged threat.

There were, as usual, worrisome stories about polar bears menacing Nunavut and N.W.T. communities, including one bear that ripped a bunch of tents in Iqaluit's popular Sylvia Grinnell Park this summer.

Yellowknife was also on alert last month after a wolverine was spotted several times around town, including near a middle school. The animal evaded capture for a week before finally being trapped and moved 160 kilometres out of the city. 

Then there was the story of 17-year-old Deanna Netser, and her fox-killing mop
Whatever tool is at hand! Deanna Netser killed this fox in Arviat, Nunavut, with a frozen mop. (submitted by Samantha Netser)

The Arviat teen spotted the Arctic fox near her house earlier this month, and decided to face it down after the critter tried biting her dog. The only weapon at hand was a frozen mop, but that was enough for Netser.

She made quick work of the varmint, and it's a good thing, too — the carcass later tested positive for rabies.

The rescuers

There were also heart-warming stories of animals in distress being rescued by do-gooders — sometimes illegally.

Joshua Jeremick'ca, a friend of Joe Moosenose, with the injured eagle Moosenose had rescued in Whati. (Joshua Jeremick'ca)

Joe Moosenose in Whati, N.W.T. found a bald eagle with an injured wing last June, and brought the bird home to care for it.

Turns out that under the territory's Wildlife Act, it's illegal to remove a bird of prey from the wild and keep it captive. The bird was taken by wildlife officials to be cared for, but Moosenose wasn't charged as officials saw "no ill intent" on his part.

In Whitehorse, two eaglets fell from their nest and likely "would have been hooped" if they hadn't been found by a couple of photographers, who delivered the birds to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

The preserve also ended up with a bunch of baby woodpeckers that had been orphaned after their parents flew into a window, as well as "Jesse," a young moose that was attacked by dogs, and rescued by a teenager named Jesse. 

Jesse on the mend at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The young moose had been attacked by dogs, and rescued by a local teenager. (Dave Croft/CBC)



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