Hunters in Pond Inlet, on the north coast of Baffin Island, say the number of tusk whales is already much smaller than it was before the Mary River iron mine came into operation .

They argue that a decision expected Friday from the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) could make things worse than they are by allowing the mine to nearly double shipping in surrounding waters.

We used to see thousands and thousands of narwhals, we heard them breathing when we went to bed. In recent years, there have been very fewsays hunter Enooki Inuarak.

In a letter sent to the Commission last week, the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Association says the mine is already affecting their ability to harvest this important food source.

Narwhals are fewer in number, their behavior is changing, and hunters are having limited success in their fishing attempts. »

A quote from Excerpt from the letter from the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Association to the CNER

The Mary River Mine is owned by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. Since 2015, it has been mining what is considered one of the richest iron deposits in the world. The mine ships approximately six million tonnes of ore per year. The company says the mine expansion would create 325 jobs.

Fewer Narwhals, More Boats

Aerial studies conducted at the request of the Baffinland suggest that the number of narwhals during the summer season in Eclipse Gulf dropped from 20,000 to about 2,600 individuals between 2004 and 2021.

For the same period, maritime transport in the area, which stems mainly from the activities of the mine, has increased very sharply. In 2021, nearly 245 trips were made to and from Milne Inlet, where the ore is loaded, compared to 42 in 2015.

Baffinland says it will reduce the number of ore carriers to a maximum of 168 per year if the expansion is approved and will gradually increase that number over subsequent years.

Inuit fear that if the Mary River Mine gets the green light for expansion, shipping will explode in the area.

Photo: thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions

Research has linked shipping to whale behavior, says Kristin Westdal, the environmental group’s director of Arctic science. Oceans North. She explains that the boats create underwater noise that interferes with the narwhals’ ability to locate prey and communicate with each other.

This clearly indicates an increasing sound level, a sound that overlaps with the frequencies of the narwhals. […] The animals respond to the boats, they move away and change direction.

Peter Akman, a Baffinland spokesman, said in an email that he disagreed with that conclusion.

Based on the expert opinion of marine biologists […] increased shipping does not pose a significant risk to narwhal. »

A quote from Peter Akman, Spokesperson, Baffinland Iron Mines Corp

He also suggests that the Eclipse Bay narwhals simply migrated to Admiralty Inlet, on the other side of Baffin Island. Changing ice conditions as well as predator/prey relationships (killer whales live in the area) may be one explanation, he said.

Baffinland open to discussions

Baffinland nevertheless promised to impose speed limits throughout the shipping corridor. The company also said it would reduce the number of trips during shoulder seasons, reducing the need for icebreakers.

Nunavut Village, Pond Inlet.

The village of Pond Inlet is in northern Baffin Island.

Photo: CBC/Nick Murray/CBC

This will not help, however, thinks Kristin Westdal, who says that the use of icebreakers should be excludedwhich would limit Baffinland’s shipping activities to the open water season.

Baffinland says it’s ready to talk. If our monitoring programs identify reasonable links between the Project and unacceptable changes to narwhal and/or future harvest, Baffinland will respond accordingly.writes Peter Akman.

Enooki Inuarak is aware of the importance of jobs, but says only a few people in Pond Inlet depend on the mine. Food is more important, he believes.

This has an impact on our culture and our traditions. We are pushed to the point where we have to defend our way of life and our source of food.

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