Species we are monitoring:

Land mammals

Arctic Fox
Scientific name: Vulpes lagopus

Photo credit: Ineke van Rossum

Photo credit: Eric Kilby

The Arctic fox has a round head, a blunt muzzle, short limbs and short, rounded ears. The head and body of an adult fox are up to 70cm long, with the bushy tail being half the length of its body. Its dense, multi-layered coat, which is several inches thick during winter, provides excellent heat insulation. Arctic foxes change colour seasonally, from greyish-brown in summer to white or blue-grey in winter. Arctic foxes are nocturnal, solitary animals. They may be seen in the vicinity of polar bears and wolves, seeking to feed on the remains of caribou and seal kills.

Arctic Ground Squirrel
Scientific name: Spermophilus parryii

Photo credit: Alan Scmierer

The Arctic ground squirrel is the largest of all the ground squirrels (<40 cm long) and the most northern dwelling squirrel. The Arctic ground squirrel has two annual moults, one in June and one in the autumn. The summer coat is reddish or beige with white spots along the back. The winter coat is greyish. It may have white markings around the eyes in summer. Found across tundra regions of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska.

Arctic Hare
Scientific name: Lepus arcticus

Photo credit: Corporal Arthur Ark

The largest hare in North America, the Arctic hare resembles a rabbit, but is bigger. The Arctic hare has large hind legs with padded feet and long claws. It has large front teeth and medium-sized ears. Its coloration changes with the seasons. The fur is greyish-brown in summer, becoming all white in the winter. The ears have black tips throughout the year. In the northernmost parts of its range, it may remain white throughout the year. The Arctic hare has long claws and large front teeth. Found in the high Arctic islands, tundra regions of the Northwest Territories, northern Quebec, Labrador and parts of western Newfoundland.

Arctic Wolf
Scientific name: Canis lupus arctos

Photo credit: Soren Wolf

The Arctic wolf is a subspecies of the grey wolf (Canus lupus – see below) and is native to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It is smaller in length than the grey wolf but can appear bulkier and is most easily distinguished by its year-round white coat (which becomes shorter and less dense in the spring). Arctic wolves have a narrower braincase and larger carnassial teeth than grey wolves. The ears are less round than those of other wolf species.

Grey Wolf
Scientific name: Canis lupus

Photo credit: Doug McLaughlin

The grey wolf is the largest member of the family Canidae, males being up to 2m in length, females somewhat smaller. It resembles a large domestic dog but with longer legs, larger paws and a narrower chest. Grey wolves have heavily mottled, thick fur of shades that may be white, black, grey, brown or tan. Many grey wolves have a large, dark patch on their back and contrasting dark and light facial markings. Light-coloured wolves are common in Arctic regions (see also Arctic wolf). Adult grey wolves have a bushy, half-meter long tail. Gray wolves are often found in small packs. They can be quite vocal; their mournful howl is a distinguishing characteristic. Gray wolves are widely distributed throughout northern North America.

Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus

Photo credit: Jim Winstead

Caribou are ungulates with dark brown coats that may feature lighter coloured patches around the neck and rump, and above each hoof. Male and female caribou have flattened antlers that projected forward. Male caribou shed their antlers in November or December, after mating, while females and young may carry theirs through the winter months. Females may also be distinguished from males by the presence of a black vulva patch seen from the back end. Caribou have large, wide, concave hooves. Caribou are found in North America across the tundra from Alaska through the Canadian tundra, their range extending southward into the boreal forest and the mountains of western Canada. There are several sub-species of caribou, that fall into three general categories according to their habitat and range. Peary Caribou are found on the islands of Canada’s high Arctic, and are generally smaller than other caribou. Barren-ground caribou are found on the mainland of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and the lower Arctic islands, living on the tundra in large, migratory herds. Woodland caribou are larger than the other sub-species and live year-round in boreal forests and mountains across northern North America.

Collared Lemming
Scientific name: Dicrostonyx groenlandicus

A small (13-16 cm) short-tailed rodent with a rotund, thickly furred body. The collared lemming has wide feet with heavily furred soles and large digging claws on its front feet. It has small ears and short legs. In summer, the lemming has a grey back with a dark stripe down the middle; the shoulder, chest, legs and underparts are light brown or grey. In winter, its fur turns white. Collared lemmings are found across northern parts of Alaska, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as well as Greenland, Baffin Island and several other islands in the Canadian Arctic archipelago.

Scientific name: Ovibos moschatus

Muskoxen have short, stocky bodies with massive, rounded or humped shoulders and no apparent neck. Their large heads are carried low and feature a flat forehead and long, curved horns. The ground-length coat is pale coloured between the horns, along the lower legs and in the centre of the back. Muskoxen can appear very shaggy in midsummer as their insulating winter underwool is shed. Typically seen in herds of 10 to 20, though large groups of 400 or more are occasionally seen. Often feed near water in summer. In summer, bulls may be seen solitary or in small groups. Muskoxen are found in tundra regions of the mainland Northwest Territories and Nunavut, numerous islands in the Canadian Arctic (but not Baffin), and Greenland. Small populations have been introduced to coastal Alaska.

Polar Bear
Scientific name: Ursus maritimus

Photo credit: R.Smith – DFO

The unmistakable polar bear is the largest land carnivore in the world, with males averaging 550kg (1200 lbs.) and females averaging 225 kg (500 lbs). Their distinctive white coat can appear off-white or yellowish. Polar bears have a long neck, narrow head and small ears. Their large, heavily furred paws make excellent paddles for swimming. Polar bears are found in coastal areas throughout the circumpolar Arctic, including Hudson Bay and James Bay.

Marine mammals


Beluga Whale (white whale)
Scientific name: Delphinapterus leucas

Photo credit: Hafiz Issadeen

Distinctive white-coloured, toothed whales, adults 4-5m in length. Belugas are stocky, slow swimming, and have a low dorsal ridge instead of a fin. The distinctive ‘melon’ protruding from the front of the head aids the whale in echolocation. Calf is born dark grey, becoming white with age. The trailing edges of the tail flukes are convex. The trailing edges of the small, rounded flippers curl upwards in males, but remain flat in females. Belugas are vocal and can often be heard above water. Widely distributed in coastal waters throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, including the St. Lawrence estuary.

Bowhead Whale
Scientific name: Balaena mysticetus

Photo credit: Kate Stafford

Baleen whales named for their large bow-shaped heads that comprise one-third of the total body length. Usually black or grey in colour, with a white patch at the front of the lower jaw; this patch may contain grey or black spots. Adults up to 20m in length. The bowhead has a rotund body, with a distinct neck, broad back and a large muscular bulge in the blowhole area. Bowheads are recognizable for a downward curving mouthline, the eyes located just above the corner of the mouth and that they have no dorsal fin or ridge. Wide, smoothly contoured, blunt-tipped flippers and tail flukes. A light grey or white band often forms near the base of the tail, which expands with age; older bowheads may have a nearly all white tail. Bowhead whales are year-round Arctic residents, living among pack ice and migrating to the high Arctic in summer. The large, strong head helps them push through surface ice.

Humpback Whale
Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae

Large baleen whales (adults 14-17m long) seen in small pods or alone. Easily identified by their large, wing-like flippers nearly 1/3 as long as their bodies. Humpbacks have round, white protuberances called ‘tubercles’ on the head and lower jaw. Long pectoral fins with variable white patterning. Tail flukes are serrated along the trailing edge, with variable white patterns on the underside that are unique to each individual. Known for breaching, leaping and slapping the surface of the water with pectoral fins or flukes. Humpbacks are migratory, found in summer in Pacific sub-Arctic waters of BC and Alaska, in coastal areas and along the edge of the continental shelf.

Photo credit: Tom Kieckhefer

Minke Whale
Scientific name: Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Photo credit: Anne-Line Brink

Minkes are small baleen whales, adults 7-11m in length. Common in coastal waters, often seen as individuals or in small pods of 2-3 individuals. Minkes are distinguished by a narrowly pointed snout and a slender body. Black, brown or dark grey backs, with white colouring under the flippers and on the belly. A key characteristic is a white band on the upper surface of the pectoral fins and a pointed, backward-hooking dorsal fin. May have a light V-shape behind the head and light grey patches on each side of the head. Minkes rarely raise their tail flukes when diving and rarely breach. Minkes are migratory, spending summers in Arctic waters and winters in equatorial waters, with some remaining in ice-covered waters year-round.

Scientific name: Monodon monoceros

Photo credit: Kristin Laidre

Male narwhals are easily identifiable by a large tusk that extends from a protruding canine tooth. Adult narwhals are 4-5.5m in length, with robust bodies and a bulbous head with little or no beak. No dorsal fin. Short, blunt flippers that turn up at the tips in adults. Tail flukes are deeply notched and curl upwards with age. Colouring varies with age; young narwhals are grey or brownish grey and with age develop black mottling. The belly is often light grey to white with dark mottling. Older narwhals can appear white with dark mottling. A year-round resident of Arctic waters.


Bearded Seal
Scientific name: Erignathus barbatus

Photo credit: Christopher Michel

Large seals up to 2.5m in length, females larger than males. Named for their abundant, pale facial hair (vibrissae), which is long and densely packed, curling inwards when wet. Bearded seals have a rounded, somewhat narrow head, a pale, wide muzzle, widely spaced nostrils and small, close-set eyes. A dark line may extend from the crown down between the eyes. Bearded seals are uniformly coloured, varying from light or dark grey to brown; adults are often darker above than below, with rust-coloured face and foreflippers. Foreflippers are short and broad with a squarish end owing to the even-length digits. Found throughout the Canadian Arctic and along the Labrador coast and northeast Newfoundland, often observed as solitary individuals moving among the sea ice or swimming along the shore.

Grey Seal
Scientific name: Halichoerus grypus

Photo credit: Garry Stenson

Photo credit: Andreas Trepte (www.photo-natur.net)

Photo credit: Andreas Trepte (www.photo-natur.net)

Adults 2-2.3m in length, females smaller than males. Best identified by its long muzzle, which is particularly wide at the snout, with moustache-like hair that partially covers the lower jaw. Nicknamed ‘horsehead’ seals because of the overall head shape, namely the sloping forehead. Males are generally thicker through the neck and have shorter, relatively thick foreflippers compared to females. Typically grey in colour, shading darker on top, with numerous irregular blotches and spots on the back. Males can darken with age. Subadults are paler grey with few blotches, and may appear to be tan in colour immediately prior to moulting. Commonly found in coastal sub-Arctic Atlantic waters, congregating out of water on isolated beaches, rocky ledges of islands. Often seen feeding in inshore waters in isolation or small groups.

Harbour Seal
Scientific name: Phoca vitulina

Photo credit: Andreas Trepte (www.photo-natur.net)

Adults up to 1.9m in length, females shorter than males. Because there are 4-5 subspecies, appearance varies. Coats carry a liberally scattered mix of many fine spots, ring-like markings and blotches, mostly on the back and sides. The base pattern is usually light to dark grey or brown on the back, with a paler belly, though some animals may be uniformly coloured. In some localities, the coat appears slightly rust-coloured on the head and upper body. Pups may appear silvery grey for several weeks after birth. The adult’s body is plump, with a small head and slight forehead. Nostrils are small, closely set in a “V” shape. Eyes are large and closely set and are found just above and in front of large external ear openings. The facial hairs (vibrissae) are prominent, light-coloured and beaded. Foreflippers are short and squared off, with long, thin, hooked claws. These non-migratory seals are widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere in both temperate and polar regions. Found in coastal waters of the continental shelf and slope, breeding on beaches, low-lying rocks, terraces, and ice, often seen alone or in small groups.

Harp Seal
Scientific name: Pagophilus groenlandicus

Photo credit: Garry Stenson

Photo credit: Garry Stenson

Photo credit: Garry Stenson

Adults up to 2m in length. Recognizable for its conspicuous black harp (or “V”) pattern that joins over the shoulders and sweeps down the sides to the pelvis. Colouring varies with age and is somewhat complex. Young harp seals are white but lose their lanugo fur by about 3 weeks of age. They then have a spotted pattern with a lighter underside. They keep a spotted pattern for approximately 5 years at which point they develop a faint harp pattern. Spots will fade with age until older adults just have the harp pattern. Some adults also have a black head. Harp seals are found on pack ice throughout the eastern Arctic and North Atlantic oceans, including Lancaster sound and Baffin Island.

Hooded Seal
Scientific name: Cystophora cristata

Photo credit: Garry Stenson

Photo credit: Garry Stenson

Large, robust seals, adults up to 2.6m in length, males larger than females. Adults are silvery grey, with scattered, irregularly sized, dark blotches that come together toward the head and the foreflippers. The flippers are relatively short, and are slightly pointed and angular with a longer first digit. They have large heads that are wide and short. The muzzle is very wide and fleshy. The facial hair (vibrissae) are beaded, relatively short and light. Adult males have an inflatable nasal cavity in the form of a black bladder. When flaccid, it hangs down in front of the mouth in older males. When inflated, it forms a crescent shaped hood that almost doubles the size of the head, hence the origins of the name. Males can also extrude a red balloon-like membrane from the left nostril. Pups are called “bluebacks” for their dark blue-grey coat above and creamy white colour below, which lasts for the 2.5 years. Hooded seals are found at the Atlantic end of the Arctic Ocean, and in high latitudes of the North Atlantic.

Ringed Seal
Scientific name: Phoca hispida

Photo credit: Shawn Dahle

Smaller seals that appear plump in comparison with other species, adults up to 1.6m in length. Most easily distinguishable by the abundance of spots on their backs and sides that are circled with rings of lighter colour. The overall colouration varies, typically darker grey on top and light grey or silver on the belly. Ringed seals have a small, rounded head, a short, thick neck and a short, slightly broad muzzle. Facial hair are light-coloured and beaded. The eyes are large and close-set, giving it a cat-like appearance. The foreflippers are small and slightly pointed. Pups are born white but moult quickly after birth. Ringed seals are found throughout the Arctic, Hudson Bay and Labrador. Tend to remain in particular locations, with shore fast ice conditions influencing their distribution.

Scientific name: Odobenus rosmarus

Photo credit: Joel Garlich-Miller

Easily recognizable, adult walruses are up to 3.6m in length, males larger than females. Their distinctive tusks develop from large upper canine teeth and can be up to a metre in length. Males tend to have tusks that are less curved and divergent at the tips. Their large, bulky bodies feature a thick neck, chest and shoulders, tapering towards the tail. The skin is often rough and heavily marked with many folds; older males often have lumps or nodules on the neck and chest. The head and muzzle are short and very wide. The end of the muzzle is flattened with nostrils on top, and has large, fleshy, forward-facing mystacial pads sprouting whitish facial hair (vibrissae). Eyes are small, widely set and can appear blood shot. Walruses have no ear pinnae. The foreflippers are relatively short and squarish with weakly developed claws; the first digits are longer than subsequent ones. The tail is enclosed in a web of skin. There are three distinct subspecies populations of walrus, all of which have a nearly circumpolar distribution in the Arctic. Walruses are found in shallow water and coastal areas. They generally tend to follow the movements of pack ice, but some will summer at more distant locations. Walruses regularly haul out on sandy beaches, rocky shores, and ice floes to rest and moult.