​Dozens of dead caribou found on remote Nunavut island

When a scientist went to an uninhabited island in Nunavut to set up a research station he stumbled across something else: dozens of dead caribou.

Researchers find 47 carcasses on Prince Charles Island

One of 47 carcasses found on Prince Charles Island. (Paul Smith)

Nunavut's Department of Environment is trying to find out what happened to dozens of dead Baffin caribou found on an uninhabited island in the Arctic.

The carcasses of 47 caribou were spotted in July on Prince Charles Island by a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The find comes a year and a half after the Nunavut government imposed an emergency caribou hunting ban on Baffin Island — and including Prince Charles Island — after finding their numbers had plummeted. In 2015, the first-ever Baffin Island caribou quota of 250 animals per year was imposed. 

Paul Smith studies Arctic birds and was flying around the island in a Twin Otter airplane scouting locations to build a research station. 

From the airplane, Smith saw unusual white shapes on the tundra.

"And as we came in on the final approach to land on this sandbar, I noticed that they were actually carcasses of caribou," Smith said.

"It was sort of an apocalyptic scene. There's carcasses of caribou, literally dozens of them on either side of this ridge as you land the airplane. It's not a really comforting sight to be surrounded by dead wildlife as you're stepping out of the airplane."

Smith, along with Nunavut's Department of Environment, collected samples.

"Investigations into the cause and extent of the die-off and health of the deceased caribou is ongoing," reads a statement from a department spokesperson.

Smith spotted unusual white shapes on the tundra from the airplane while scouting locations for a research station (Paul Smith)

Caribou 'stronghold'

One of the reasons Smith chose Prince Charles Island to build a research station was because of its abundance of wildlife.

An aerial survey by the territorial government in the winter of 2014 estimated a third of all Baffin caribou were found on Prince Charles Island.

One of a number of dead caribou found on Prince Charles Island, just west of Baffin Island in Nunavut. (Paul Smith)

The survey estimated there were between 3,462 to 6,250 caribou, down from an estimated 100,000 from 1985.

"To come there and find all of these dead caribou suggesting this large die-off is troubling," said Smith, noting that he also saw 11 live caribou on the island.

"This is supposed to be the stronghold of this herd."


John Van Dusen is a journalist with CBC North based in Yellowknife. Find him on Twitter @jvdCBC.