Where the Bluenose roam
Three herds head for calving grounds

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Inuvik ( May 26/00) - Researchers recently confirmed that the Bluenose caribou herd is in fact, three separate herds.

John Nagy, wildlife manager from the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development in Inuvik, said the confirmation came from data compiled over the last five years.

"With a combination of satellite tracking and DNA analysis, we've basically shown that there are three different herds of caribou," Nagy said. "For convenience we are calling the three herds Cape Bathurst, Bluenose West and Bluenose East herds."

The groups were named for the areas where the caribou give birth each spring. The original herd was named for Bluenose Lake, Nagy said.

Bluenose Lake, located about 500 kilometres east of Inuvik, is where the herd splits east and west.

The Cape Bathurst herd migrates to the Cape Bathurst Peninsula; the Bluenose West herd calves in the Melville Hills in Tuktut Nogait National Park, just east of Paulatuk; and the Bluenose East herd calves in the headwaters of the Rae/Richardson Rivers.

"It explains why, in some years, we were having difficulty in even doing a population, because really we were working with three different groups, instead of one group," he said.

"We have satellite collars on these animals and over the last few weeks, they have started to move towards their calving areas."

A wandering female has left the herd and seems to be heading east, Nagy said.

"One of the Bluenose East animals wintered down just north of Yellowknife, so we're not sure ... she seems to be heading in the wrong direction."

"It's kind of interesting as to where she's going to end up because if she ends up in the Bathurst calving area, that's going to put a whole new dimension on this information," he said.

The animals choose the same calving areas each year -- Nagy says the areas are predator-free -- where cotton grass will sprout fairly early.

"Green vegetation provides a very nutritious food source for the cows that are producing milk."

Following the calving season, Nagy said RWED will start the new study June 20, and begin counting the three herds in July.

"The insects come on strong in July and the caribou (move) for insect relief," he said.

Nagy said the earliest counts were taken in the 1940s, but the most recent tally -- a photo survey conducted in 1992 -- indicated the herds to be over 100,000.

"Hopefully, by the end of the summer, we'll have a good estimate for the two western herds and the eastern Bluenose herd,"

"In general, I think caribou numbers have increased. What these three individual groups have done, it's hard to say."

The purpose of the count is to identify how many caribou are within each herd and how many are born each year. Researchers will compare that data with Inuvialuit, Gwich'in harvest studies and resident hunter harvest surveys to determine if the animals are being over-hunted.

"We'll have a better idea as to whether the harvest is sustainable and within acceptable limits," Nagy said.