The mythical reindeer, vital to native Arctic peoples for millennia
Information about Caribou
Our Expert Says… "Female caribou don't lose their antlers over winter - so Santa's Rudolf and his crew were obviously not males! The caribou has always been such an important species for both humans and hunting mammals in the arctic north that the human and natural history of the north would have been very different without them."
The caribou is known as the reindeer in Europe. They are found in the arctic and sub-arctic areas of North American and Eurasia in habitats including forests, mountains, and tundra. There are more than 15 sub-species of caribou currently recognized.
Caribou are both migratory and sedentary and their herding habits vary by location. There is a migrating herd of Siberian caribou that consists of up to 1 million individuals, although North American populations seem to be under pressure, with herd sizes down to under 10,000.
Some of the North American sub-species can claim to have the longest migrations of any land mammal, covering over 3,000 miles every year. As well as long-distance stamina, caribou can move quickly when they need to. Adults can run at up to 50mph, and even day-old calves could outsprint Usain Bolt!
Caribou have special adaptations to survive in harsh Arctic weather. One such is that the arteries and veins in their legs are closely intertwined, allowing the returning cooler blood in the veins to lower the temperature of the arterial blood. This method of heat exchange minimizes the amount of heat the caribou loses through the skin, enabling them to regulate their body temperature in greater extremes of weather than other mammals.
Males are larger than females, typically weighing around 180kg (400lb) and standing up to 1.5m (60”) at the shoulder. There is a sub-species called the Svalbard Reindeer that is much smaller, typically standing half the size at the shoulder compared to other sub-species.
Caribou has always been an important resource for native Arctic peoples. They are hunted for meat, fur, and antler across their whole range. North American caribou were not traditionally herded, whereas the northern European reindeer was and is the world’s only semi-domesticated deer, having been domesticated for centuries by various native peoples, including the Sami.
Interesting facts about Caribou
Within NE Greenland Norwegian hunters wiped out the Caribou, and they still absent here, although they will hopefully return via the 'wildlife corridor' across the very north of Greenland.
Pictures of Caribou
Highlights where the Caribou can be seen
On Admiralty Inlet on the very northwest side of Baffin Island.
Named after the whaling ship, the Arctic, in 1872, it is the site of quite a large community (mainly Inuktitut) called Ikpiarjuk, and a popular location to visit for expedition cruise ships. There is a museum and Ikpiarjuk a good place to learn about the culture. The area is great to ship cruise and explore for wildlife.
Narrow strait separating Somerset Island to the north from Murchison Promontory of Boothia Peninsula to the south, the northernmost part of mainland America.
The 2km (1.2 mi) wide and 25 km (16 mi) strait connects the Gulf of Boothia, Prince Regent Inlet, and Brentford Bay to the east with Peel Sound and Franklin Strait to the west. It became a strait on ‘one’ of the NW passage routes. On a map of the Canadian Arctic, unless you look in detail, it is easy to assume the Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island is one peninsula. In many ways, with Bellot Strait locked in ice much of the year, it is like the peninsula. Since it is so narrow, it can be a place to look for Narwhal, and, along the shore, Polar Bear, or even wolf.
At the very northern end of Baffin Bay and the very northwest of Greenland, Etah looks across the Nares Strait to Ellesmere Island, the area usually frozen from October to July.
The area was the crossing point to Greenland for cultures 4,400 and 2,700 years ago, the Thule culture migrants less than a thousand years ago, and the point of the last migration of the Inuit from Baffin Island reached the coast of Greenland in 1865 Etah was also a starting point for various expeditions attempting to get to the North Pole.
Today the channel, when frozen, continues to be a crossing point for wildlife from Canada to Greenland, even Wolverine get across. Etah used to be the most-northerly populated settlement in the world, but it was abandoned (Inuit moving south to Pituffik) due to the harsh conditions.
North of the Arctic Circle and deep in the long Kangerlussuaq fjord, it was the site of a WWII airport, then for refuelling for trans-continental flights.
The airport and the fjord are used as pick-up and drop off for cruise ships exploring the remoter parts of west Greenland. There are few roads in Greenland, but a 25 km dirt road connects the town with the mighty ice cap. Nowhere else is there easier access to the Greenland ice cap. Area also good for caribou, Musk Ox (actually introduced to this part of Greenland), and to look out for White-tailed Eagles.
Narsarsuaq & Qaqortoq
This area of deep fjords and lush scenery was probably the area where that the Vikings came up with the name of Greenland, and where first church in the New World was built.
Icebergs contrast with the verdant landscape that is great explore. Qaqortoq is South Greenland’s largest town with lots of colourful houses. It is also a good area to see White-tailed Eagles and other Greenland wildlfe.
Prince Leopold Island
This island is in a key location in Lancaster Sound at the junction of Prince Regent Inlet and Barrow Strait, off the northwest coast of Somerset Island. It has some really impressive and steep seabird cliffs that is one of the most important sites in the Canadian Arctic and a bird sanctuary.
Also good area to look for marine mammals and other Arctic wildlife.
Town on small island of the same name with a prominent peak at the entrance of Uummannaq Fjord.
Photogenic location for the town, the largest north of Ilulissat, with a museum and the chance to experience a Greenland community. The fjords great for the scenery and icebergs and whale watching. In the region is Qilakitsaq, where there is a site with Innuit burial remains.