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Location Canada, Nunavut
Central coordinates 79o 59.98' West  74o 12.07' North
IBA criteria A4ii, A4iii
Area 872,765 ha
Year of IBA assessment 2008

Bird Studies Canada/Nature Canada

Site description The Lancaster Sound Polynya is located between the northwestern end of Baffin Island and the south coast of Devon Island. The shape and extensiveness of the polynya (an area of open water surrounded by ice, varies from year to year) and associated leads is influenced by the severity of the winter, water currents and winds. Landfast ice starts to develop in late September, with the sound becoming completely ice-covered by mid to late October. Leads and cracks begin to form between mid November and mid December, and remain until break-up. One of the most regularly occurring leads is one that develops along the south coast of Devon Island. In the 1970s break-up occurred any time between early May and August. Many large marine mammals, such as Bearded Seals, Belugas, Walruses and Polar Bears, feed in the waters here.

Key Biodiversity The Lancaster Sound Polynya supports an amazing number of migrant Dovekies. During the latter half of May, this small alcid is migrating north to its breeding grounds in the Thule District of northwest Greenland, where many millions of Dovekies breed. On route, they stop at the Lancaster Sound Polynya to feed along the ice edges and loose drift ice of the open water found here.

In the latter half of May, 1976, aerial surveys of the eastern end of Lancaster Sound led to estimates of 1.5 million Dovekies. During the same time of the year in 1978, aerial surveys of an adjacent area in the sound led to estimates of 6 million and 14 million Dovekies. This is a significant portion of the Thule breeding population and an outstanding number by any measure.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Little Auk Alle alle passage  1978  14,000,000 individuals  A4ii  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - seabirds passage  1978  5,000,000-9,999,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2013 high not assessed low

Energy production and mining oil and gas drilling likely in long term (beyond 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration medium
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Human intrusions and disturbance war, civil unrest and military exercises happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Pollution industrial & military effluents - type unknown/unrecorded likely in long term (beyond 4 years) small area/few individuals (<10%) very rapid to severe deterioration low
Transportation and service corridors shipping lanes happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high

Little/none of site covered (<10%)  No management plan exists but the management planning process has begun  Some limited conservation initiatives are in place  low 


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Sea Open sea  100%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
not utilised major

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Lancaster Sound Polynya. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016

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