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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Canada's Arctic Marine Wildlife

Illustration showing 7 marine species which can be found beneath the waters of Canada's Arctic Ocean
© Parks Canada / Dorothea Kappler, 1995

Annual primary productivity ranges from barely one percent that of the Atlantic in areas of permanent ice, to a high of 17 percent. Yet seasonally, certain Arctic areas are among the richest in the world and it is this seasonal abundance which attracts such tremendous numbers of seabirds and marine mammals.

The intertidal fauna is poor, primarily due to the action of ice along the shore, scouring everything in its path to a depth of several metres. Below this depth, a moderately diverse community exists composed mainly of species common throughout the world's Arctic waters.

Barely 130 fish species occur in the marine and brackish waters of the Canadian Arctic, compared to the more than 500 species off the east coast and the 400 off the west coast.

Significant portions of the world populations of various seabird, waterfowl and shorebird species, as well as narwhals, bowhead whales and belugas breed, feed and migrate throughout the Arctic. Walrus, ringed and bearded seals and polar bears are year-round residents.

We are barely beginning to understand Arctic marine ecosystems and have tended to focus on what is easily visible, such as marine mammals and birds, or commercially important to man, such as Arctic charr. Yet we know almost nothing about other parts of the food web, such as benthic plants and animals which make up more than 50% of the Arctic biomass.

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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