© Paul Nicklen_National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada Narwhal A pod of male narwhal (Monodon monoceros) in Nunavut, Canada

Arctic Species Conservation Fund

The Arctic Species Conservation Fund supports research and stewardship actions, safeguarding some of Canada’s most emblematic species.

Helping Wildlife Thrive in a Changing Arctic

The Arctic Species Conservation Fund supports high-quality stewardship and research initiatives focused on wildlife and habitats in the Canadian Arctic. WWF-Canada relies on partnerships with Indigenous organizations and the best available information to jointly advocate for effective Arctic conservation policies and legislation. Established in 2016, the ASCF is proud to support applied conservation initiatives that focus on Arctic wildlife including Atlantic walrus, barren-ground caribou, beluga whales, bowhead whales, narwhal, polar bears, and ringed seals.

Map of various research projects across Nunavut

A History of Success

Since the Arctic Species Conservation Fund began in 2016, more than 80 projects have been supported across Canada’s Arctic. Results from these projects include:

  • Community-based monitoring that led to the discovery that narwhal stress hormones have increased 100% in recent years as shipping intensifies and the climate warms.
  • The mapping of all known polar bear denning habitat across the Canadian Arctic.
  • Updated polar bear subpopulation estimates including good news for the M’Clintock Channel and Gulf of Boothia subpopulations.
  • The mapping of calving grounds of the struggling Baffin Island caribou herd using Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit Knowledge) workshops.
  • A new method to study the impact of disturbance from mining activity on barren-ground caribou.
  • The discovery of a novel way the narwhal tusk is used to feed in the area around Tremblay Sound.
  • The development of drones as a non-invasive method of studying bowhead whale feeding habits and population demographics.
  • Acoustic monitoring and aerial survey analyses to learn how increased ship traffic and ice-breaking along proposed shipping routes affect marine mammals in north Baffin Island.
  • Mapping all known walrus haul-outs in Canada and advocating for the avoidance of these areas by ships through Mariner’s Guides and intervention in industrial development projects.

Applicants from all backgrounds (community groups, Hunters and Trappers Organizations, governments, universities, independent researchers, non-government organizations, etc.) and fields of study (Indigenous Knowledge (IK), Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), natural sciences, social sciences, etc.) are eligible to apply.

The types of projects the fund seeks to support include:

  • Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area projects at any stage of development, including scoping
  • Initiatives that enable communities to participate in Land Use Planning, Environmental Impact Assessments, Strategic Environmental Assessments, Species at Risk listing processes etc.
  • Studies on the resilience of Arctic habitats
  • Projects that demonstrate the potential of economic opportunities for northern communities through conservation programming
  • Nature-Based Solutions projects seeking to identify, restore or protect areas of carbon storage

  • Understanding the effects of underwater noise, ice breaking and oil spill events on marine mammals
  • Understanding the impacts of ship-based contaminants (black carbon, grey water, heavy metals, invasive species, microplastics, scrubbers etc.) on marine mammals and Arctic marine habitats
  • Research furthering our understanding of the effects of roads, development sites and other forms of disturbance on caribou and their habitats
  • Identification and characterization of critical habitat for caribou
  • Development and implementation of methods to reduce human-polar bear conflict in communities

How to Apply

Applications should be submitted in PDF format to [email protected]. For full fund criteria, please refer to the 2023 call for proposals available in English, Inuktitut and French.


Arctic Species Conservation Fund Projects

© naturepl.com / Sue Flood / WWF Beluga whales trapped at ice hole (Delphinapterus leucas) too far away to reach open sea

Arctic Whales

  • Passive acoustic monitoring and drone assessment of the impacts of shipping and development on High Arctic beluga whales and narwhals

Although the importance and significance of Creswell Bay has been long noted by Inuit, limited scientific data is available in this region of the High Arctic where beluga and narwhal have visited since time immemorial.

Researchers aim to strengthen our knowledge and understanding of these whales by establishing baseline data on vocalizations, social behaviours, health and soundscapes while cataloging population genetic information. This data will be critical to the development of regulatory measures required to protect the whales from a variety of stressors that will only increase in the region.

Project partners: Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National Geographic, Florida Atlantic University, Polar Continental Shelf Program

  • An ecosystem approach to quantifying behavioral and energetic impacts of human-made disturbance to Arctic whales

Combining drone behavioural observations with satellite telemetry tags, vessel locations and noise data, the team will determine how human-made noise impacts Arctic whale behaviour and vocalizations, how diving behaviour affects vessel strike risk; and how we can mitigate impacts to reduce risk of disturbance, injury and mortality.

The outcomes of our research will directly support risk mitigation actions by the Department of National Defense regarding using sonar in the Arctic and will contribute to Fisheries and Oceans Canada adaptive responses to marine shipping and environmental impacts on Arctic whales.

Project partners: Dalhousie University, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Mitacs

  • Assessing movements and ecosystem effects of subarctic whales in the Baffin Bay – Davis Strait region

The project aims to document the migration pathways and northern range extent of subarctic whale species — including killer whales, sperm whales, northern bottlenose whales, fin whales and humpback whales — in the Baffin Bay region. The researchers will combine new tagging data with historic telemetry data from 2018 to 2022 to understand the behavior and ecology of these whale species as they spend increasing amounts of time in the Arctic.

This research is crucial in the context of climate change, as subarctic species are extending their distribution into the Arctic due to decreasing sea ice, potentially impacting the behavior and habitat of endemic Arctic whales. The results will support conservation efforts, identifying crucial habitats for whales and migratory connections to develop management plans, and mitigate threats to these species.

Project partners: University of Manitoba, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ocean Tracking Network (University of Windsor), Government of Nunavut, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

  • Assessing the impact of underwater noise from ships on bowhead whales in Foxe Basin, Nunavut

Researchers will study bowhead whales by attaching high-resolution movement tags and hydrophone tags to understand their movements and acoustic behavior in the absence of ship noise. The team will then conduct a controlled ship noise playback experiment using an underwater speaker to observe how bowhead whales react to such noise exposure.

The study aims to measure the movement and vocalizations of the whales along with background ambient sound levels in the absence of boat noise and after the ship noise playback. The valuable insights gained from this research will help inform the management of ship traffic in critical areas for bowhead whales as ship traffic increases in the Arctic due to anticipated industrial expansion.

Project partners: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, Igloolik Hunters and Trappers Organization, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

© Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada

Polar Bears

  • Reducing human-polar bear conflict in Whale Cove, Nunavut

WWF continues its partnership with the Issatik Hunters and Trappers Organization in Whale Cove, Nunavut in an effort to reduce human-polar bear conflict in the community.

As climate change continues to negatively affect the fragile ecological systems in western Hudson Bay, both bears and humans find themselves in dangerous situations more frequently than ever before. Under the direction of the Issatik HTO, this program works diligently to keep both the community and polar bears safe while documenting their observations of the drivers of polar bear behaviour.

Project partners: Issatik Hunters and Trappers Organization

  • Tracking problem polar bears to increase community and bear safety

WWF is a longtime partner of the world’s most comprehensive telemetry study of polar bears, which occurs in the Churchill, Manitoba region. This year, the project continues focusing on the movements of polar bears that have caused problems in Churchill to better understand which types of bears are prone to conflict.

Examining a bear’s age, sex, distribution and habitat factors will help assess the probability of an individual bear coming into conflict with humans. This work will inform planning to minimize human-polar bear conflict and increase community safety.

Project partners: University of Alberta, Government of Manitoba Department of Conservation and Climate, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Government of Nunavut

© Lin Pepper Walrus in Poolepynton point in Svalbard, Norway

Walrus

  • Assessing walrus vulnerability to disturbance using satellite telemetry, stationary cameras and acoustics

Increased shipping has the potential to disturb walrus, ultimately leading to displacement from their haulouts and disruption of critical behaviors such as reproduction, foraging and resting.

The research team will deploy satellite tags onto walruses to gain detailed movement and habitat use data as well as hydrophones to collect acoustic data of passing ships. Data will be used to assess the relationship between walrus haulout behavioural patterns and the presence or absence of ships as well as assess spatial and temporal overlaps between habitat use and shipping corridors.

Project Partners: Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Coral Harbour Hunters and Trappers Organization, Sanirajak Hunters and Trappers Organization, Igloolik Hunters and Trappers Organization

© Alexandre Paiement Barren Ground Caribou

Barren-Ground Caribou

  • Long-term shifts in Arctic vegetation and snow cover: three decades of change on southeastern Victoria Island

The project aims to address the impact of climate change on caribou populations in the Arctic, where snow and access to high-quality forage have been identified as limiting factors for these large herbivores. By assessing long-term changes in the caribou foraging environment and its connection with vegetation, the research aims to evaluate long-term trends in caribou forage quality and access.

The results of this study will provide valuable projections of the future effects of climate change on caribou populations, particularly in terms of the tundra’s capacity to support them, while continuing long-term monitoring efforts to better understand and address these changes.

Project partners: Trent University

  • Land Use Planning in the traditional territory of the North Slave Métis Alliance

The North Slave Métis Alliance is undergoing the development of a land use plan for their traditional lands in the Northwest Territories by holding workshops with elders, reviewing community maps and documenting traditional knowledge and land use in context of important environmental and cultural features.

Land use planning is an important aspect of conservation which aims to establish clear guidelines as to what is off-limits to development and where development may be permitted. Developing a land use plan for the region will support the organization’s continued efforts in environmental conservation and the preservation of culturally important places.

Project partners: North Slave Métis Alliance

  • Using animal-borne sensors and acoustic recording units to monitor caribou behaviour, insect harassment and sound disturbance

This research aims to investigate the effects of disturbance on barren-ground caribou using an innovative two-pronged acoustic monitoring approach. By equipping caribou collars with miniature sound recorders and accelerometers, the study will measure how industrial noise and insect activity impact the behavior and health of the caribou.

These findings will provide real-time responses to environmental factors and information on caribou well-being and calf survival, aiding in predicting population trends and making informed land-use decisions.

This collaborative project holds the potential to enhance monitoring and mitigate the impact of human activities, particularly disturbances from mining operations, on caribou and their habitat.

Project partners: State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

  • IceNet: an innovative method to predict sea ice formation in the context of caribou migration

This project will assess the potential of using IceNet, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that predicts sea ice formation, as an early-warning tool for Dolphin and Union caribou migration in the Coronation Gulf. The researchers aim to determine whether IceNet can anticipate the timing, location and risk of sea-ice crossings by these unique sea-ice migratory caribou.

By focusing on the Coronation Gulf and comparing the satellite and AI forecast data with historic caribou migrations, the researchers aim to train IceNet’s forecasts into caribou migration predictions. The final goal is to eventually develop a “conservation early warning and alert system” that can be used by wildlife managers and local communities to monitor caribou migration.,

Project Partners: British Antarctic Survey, Government of Nunavut, Cambridge Bay Hunters and Trappers Association

What is our arctic team working on?

Our dedicated team of conservationists and researchers are constantly out in the field gathering facts and data. Read more about their work.

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