Narwhal Research Communities in Canada

The region surrounding Baffin Bay is composed of many Inuit communities. Hunters and elders in these communities have a long history of traditional knowledge regarding Arctic wildlife. Because many residents rely in part on narwhals for food, and hunters have developed extensive knowledge about narwhal behavior.

Communities in the Canadian Territory of Nunavut

Arctic Bay (Ipiarjuk)

Arctic Bay photoArctic Bay, Nunavut, Canada.

Population: 690

Geography: This high arctic community is surrounded by high hills creating a land-locked bay which gives rise to its Inuktitut name, Ipiarjuk, meaning “pocket” or “bag.” Much of the community is located near a gravel beach. Sea ice formation typically begins in October and thaw occurs in mid-July. Precipitation in this area is 0.7 meters (2.3 feet) of snow with an annual rainfall of 5 centimeters (2 inches).

Hunting: Traditional hunting of caribou, seals, and narwhal are all prevalent, though caribou sightings have become less frequent. Fishing is also common. Residents report frequent sightings of polar bears.

Broughton Island (Qikiqtarjuaq)

Population: 473

Geography: Qikiqtarjuaq is named for the community and the island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. This northern access for Auyuittuq National Park is part of the Baffin Mountains which form part of the Arctic Cordillera mountain range.

Hunting: Traditional hunting and fishing are prevalent. There is diverse marine mammal wildlife including narwhal, killer whales, beluga, white whales, walruses, harp seals, and ringed seals.


Population: 1,325

Geography: This coastal plain community is part of the Pangnirtung Fjord, which eventually merges with Cumberland Sound.

Hunting: Subsistence hunting of seals, fish, caribou, whales and walruses is common. Cumberland Sound has a long history of commercial whaling.

Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik)

Population: 1,315

Geography: Mittimatalik is a high Arctic community on the northeastern tip of Baffin Island facing the mountains of Bylot Island. Because of its location on the north side of surrounding mountains, Pond Inlet has also been called Tununiq, meaning “the place that faces away from the sun.” For approximately three months in the summer, the sun never sets and in the winter there are three months when the sun never rises.

Hunting: A diverse assortment of wildlife inhabits the areas around Pond Inlet. Terrestrial animals include arctic terns, snowy owls, murres, snow geese, ptarmigan, jaegers, falcons, weasels, caribou, arctic foxes, hares, and wolves. Marine mammals include polar bear, narwhal, ringed seals, and walruses. Fish, such as Arctic cod and char are also prevalent.

Traditional knowledge about the Narwhal: Hunter David Angnatisiak notes that the size and length of a tusk is related to the skin patterns of narwhal of the same age. For example, the dark-skinned whales have very thick or wide tusks, while the tusks of more white colored whales are thinner in size. When asked about male narwhals using their tusks in any aggressive manor, David states that he has never seen narwhals fight using their tusks. However, he did hear one story of a boat being punctured from the bottom from a narwhal tusk. When asked about how tusk size relates to body size, elder Paniloo Sangoya said “They don’t relate to the size of the whale. They could be small and have a large tusk or visa versa.”

Repulse Bay

Population: 748

Geography: Repulse Bay is located on the Arctic Circle and on the south shore of Rae Isthmus.

Hunting: Traditional hunting and fishing is prevalent and includes narwhals, walrus, seals, caribou, and polar bears. There are over one hundred different species of birds, including peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons.

Traditional knowledge about the narwhal: Hunter Mark Tagoranak states, “One day, I saw one narwhal making loud noises at other narwhals who were in a lead inside the flow edge. A few minutes later, those narwhals left that lead and went to more open water. At this time, the ice was cracking and moving in such a way that the ice lead closed. I could see that this whale making the loud noises was telling the other whales to leave before the ice lead closed, saving their lives.”