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National Marine Conservation Areas of Canada

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Lancaster Sound

The Water

The region consists of numerous troughs, basins and shoals, which create a rugged and complex seabed. Depth increases along a general northwest-southeast line through the region, ranging from 100-600 m. Combined with tides in the 2 m range and strong currents, this results in cold, nutrient-rich water being upwelled to the surface, increasing primary production. Ice cover, which includes both pack ice and landfast ice, is essentially complete for some nine months of the year. Nonetheless the North Water Polynya, largest in the Arctic and several smaller ones, as well as the extensive shore lead system which develops between them, ensure the presence of open water throughout the year. Ice edge habitats are critical spring staging areas for seabirds, sea ducks and marine mammals.

The Coast

The coast is dominated by 300-400 m high cliffs, interspersed with coastal plains and lowlands and cut by numerous inlets, bays and spectacular fjords. Permanent ice fields are prominent on the eastern islands and icebergs occasionally break off into the sea from the extensive glaciers reaching the sea.

The Wildlife

Although some 30 fish species have been reported for Lancaster Sound, one species – Arctic cod – makes up most of the diet of various seabirds and marine mammals. Large schools of Arctic cod, up to 30,000 tons worth, have been observed in the region. This is one of the richest marine mammal areas in the world. Most of the world's narwhal and a third of North America's belugas, as well as the endangered eastern population of bowhead whale, spend the summer in these waters and many of these whales winter in the North Water Polynya in Baffin Bay. Ringed and bearded seals are common residents in most of the region, while while walrus tend to concentrate around the major polynyas. Some 20,000-50,000 harp seals spend the summer in these waters. This region also has one of the highest densities of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. About one-third of Eastern Canada's colonial seabirds breed and feed in Lancaster Sound, including more than 700,000 pairs of thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes and northern fulmars. There are also several thousand pairs of black guillemots, Arctic terns, and glaucous, Iceland and ivory gulls. Large colonies of greater snow geese are located in the region.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. A national marine conservation area proposal for the Lancaster Sound area was prepared in 1987, the area having been recognised early for its tremendous importance within the marine region and the Arctic in general. The feasibility assessment for the proposed new national marine conservation area was suspended at the request of the local Inuit. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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