Monitoring of the contaminant levels in Arctic Caribou in Northern Yukon and Southwestern Nunavut: making more informed decisions about food consumption

This project studies contaminant levels in caribou in the Canadian Arctic to determine if these populations remain healthy (in terms of contaminant loads), whether these important resources remain safe and healthy food choices for northerners and if contaminant levels are changing over time. In 2018/19 samples were collected from 16 Qamanirjuaq, 4 Lorillard and 18 Forty-Mile caribou and 11 Sanikiluaq reindeer. Twenty kidneys from the Bathurst caribou were also included in the analysis. Sample analyses for these collections had not been completed at the time this report was prepared. Porcupine, Qamanirjuaq and Forty-Mile caribou samples collected in the 2017/18 year have been analyzed, and results are presented in this report. Toxic elements tended to be higher in cows than bulls, likely due to the relatively higher volume of food intake (and hence toxic element intake) by cows due to their smaller size and higher energetic requirements from parturition and lactation. Cadmium and zinc increased with age while mercury decreased with age in Porcupine caribou bulls. Lead continues to decline in both herds. Overall, mercury, selenium and zinc are increasing in the Qamanirjuaq caribou, although increases are slight and may be better described by a cyclic pattern, similar to that seen in the Porcupine caribou, which is not experiencing an overall increase in any of those elements. Toxic elements were present at very low concentrations in marrow from Porcupine caribou, much lower than those found in kidneys.

Perfluorinated sulfonic acids are declining over time in caribou liver (largely due to PFOS, which has been banned). Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances and polybrominated dipheynyl ethers were present at very low levels in caribou liver. Levels of most contaminants measured in caribou kidneys were not of concern toxicologically, although renal mercury and cadmium concentrations may cause some concern for human health depending on the quantity of organs consumed. Yukon Health has advised restricting intake of kidney and liver from Yukon caribou, the recommended maximum varying depending on herd (e.g. a maximum of 25 Porcupine caribou kidneys/year). The health advisory confirms that heavy metals are very low in the meat (muscle) from caribou and this remains a healthy food choice. There have been no health advisories issued for caribou in NWT or Nunavut.

Metadata Access
Creator Gamberg, Mary; Campbell, Mitch; Muir, Derek; Suitor, Mike; Tetlichi, Joe; Wang, Xiaowa
Publisher Canadian Cryospheric Information Network
Contributor Polar Data Catalogue
Publication Year 2019
Rights Research programs, CCIN, or ArcticNet take no liability for the use or transmission of this data
OpenAccess true
Contact mary.gamberg(at); pdc(at)
Language English
Format Computer file
Discipline Environmental Research
Spatial Coverage (-141.000W, 61.000S, -94.000E, 69.000N)
Temporal Coverage Begin 2010-04-01T00:00:00Z
Temporal Coverage End 9999-12-31T00:00:00Z