Arctic Canadian mine to avoid ice breaking in Eclipse Sound this spring due to narwhals

Male narwhals have a straight tusk that can measure up to 2.5 metres long. (Paul Nicklen/Getty Images)
The decision comes after the hamlet of Pond Inlet sent a letter asking Baffinland not to break the ice this year, because the loud sounds it creates scare away a local food source — the migrating narwhals. (Paul Nicklen/Getty Images)

Baffinland Iron Mines says it will avoid ice breaking this spring in order to help preserve the summer narwhal stock in the area of Eclipse Sound (Tasiujaq), Nunavut.

The area is a natural waterway through the Arctic Archipelago within the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the territory. It’s northwest of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, and is where narwhals migrate from Baffin Bay each summer.

The decision to avoid ice breaking in Eclipse Sound comes after the hamlet of Pond Inlet sent a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board asking Baffinland not to break the ice.

The hamlet said that the loud ice breaking sounds scare the narwhals away, disrupting their migration. The whales are a vital food source for the community of Pond Inlet.

“This decision is based on direct response to Inuit input and the recognition of an important community-based project occurring which overlaps with the planned start of the Baffinland shipping season,” said Brian Penney, president and CEO of Baffinland, in a written statement.

“Without knowing what mitigation measures might be placed on the Small Craft Harbour construction activity, our decision to halt icebreaking for the spring is based on the precautionary principle that is the foundation of our adaptive management plan.”

Pond Inlet Mayor Joshua Arreak says the council supports the local hunters and their wishes.

“The Hamlet values the opinions of the people in the community, we listen to what they want and we do not support the icebreaker,” Arreak said.

Pond Inlet hunters and the Hunters and Trappers Organizations (HTO) say they’re cautious of the sea mammals in the area, and do not want the mammals to swim away from being startled by the loud sounds of the icebreaker.

‘Not without significant risk’

The icebreaker MV Botnica will be present throughout the shipping season without engagement. It also won’t enter Eclipse Sound until the waters have very little drift ice left.

It is anticipated this will translate into an approximately two-week delay to Baffinland’s shipping season. The company added the move to not break the ice is “not without significant risk” to it.

“Baffinland appreciates the time and effort dedicated by community members to provide their input,” Penney said in the statement.

“Through this participation, Baffinland has developed a strong response to its 2020 narwhal monitoring program findings for implementation during 2021 shipping operations, demonstrating a sincere and flexible commitment towards operating in a protective, precautionary, and adaptive manner.”

In the fall and future seasons, Baffinland says it will apply the “same precautionary principle” when it assesses ice breaking activities.

-With files from Teresa Qiatsuq

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Arctic’s beluga whale harvest challenged on multiple fronts in Canada, CBC News

United States: Mass grey whale strandings may be linked to solar storms, CBC News

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