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Caribou on thin ice and pelicans on the edge


The Northwest Territories (NWT) Species at Risk Committee (SARC) met in Inuvik from April 18-21, 2023, to assess the biological status of two NWT species. Both assessments were based on the best available information from Indigenous and community knowledge, and scientific knowledge.

Dolphin and Union caribou are the only caribou that migrate seasonally across the frozen ocean between Arctic islands and the mainland. Their lifecycle depends on it.

SARC reassessed Dolphin and Union caribou as an Endangered species, owing to the species' low numbers, its sensitivity to multiple impacts of climate change and a high level of community concern. This assessment indicates the species faces a higher risk of extinction than when it was first assessed by SARC in 2013.

"Changes to the sea ice are putting Dolphin and Union caribou at extreme risk of drowning or starvation. For example, climate change and passing ice breakers can make the ice weak or delay migration. Communities are already taking action to reduce harvest. It's now up to all of us to make sure these critical ice crossings are protected so caribou can travel safely to their feeding and calving grounds."

- Leon Andrew, Chairperson, NWT Species at Risk Committee

Based on this recent assessment, SARC has made several recommendations, including: enforcement of seasonal restrictions on ship travel through the Northwest Passage; increased monitoring, sampling and harvest reporting; and ongoing harvest education based on cultural teachings of Elders.

American White Pelican is one of the largest of birds in North America. The birds that live in the NWT are at the very northern edge of their global range. SARC assessed American White Pelicans as a species of Special Concern in the NWT because the birds that occur in the territory only nest in one area and could be wiped out by a single event such as flooding or disease. However, the population has been increasing, the species is highly mobile and the nesting area could be repopulated or new nesting areas established.

SARC has recommended more education and research on American White Pelicans in the NWT, from both traditional and community knowledge and scientific sources.

SARC will present its assessments and recommendations to the Conference of Management Authorities (CMA) in May 2023. The CMA will engage with NWT communities and decide if Dolphin and Union caribou should be listed as an Endangered species in the NWT and if American White Pelican should be added to the NWT List of Species at Risk as Special Concern.

The full 2023 assessments with recommendations can be found here:

For more information, contact:

Species at Risk Committee
Toll-free: 1 (855) 783-4301