Lancaster Sound

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Lancaster Sound
Map indicating Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, Canada.png
Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, Canada.
  Northwest Territories
Coordinates 74°13′N 084°00′W / 74.217°N 84.000°W / 74.217; -84.000 (Lancaster Sound)Coordinates: 74°13′N 084°00′W / 74.217°N 84.000°W / 74.217; -84.000 (Lancaster Sound)
Basin countries Canada
Settlements Uninhabited

Lancaster Sound (Inuktitut ᑕᓪᓗᕈᑎᐅᑉ ᑕᕆᐅᖓ Tallurutiup Tariunga[1]) is a body of water in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is located between Devon Island and Baffin Island, forming the eastern entrance to the Parry Channel and the Northwest Passage. East of the sound lies Baffin Bay; to the west lies Viscount Melville Sound. Further west a traveller would enter the M'Clure Strait before heading into the Arctic Ocean.

Lancaster Sound was named in 1616 by explorer William Baffin for Sir James Lancaster, one of the three main financial supporters of his exploratory expeditions. The abortive expedition by the British explorer John Ross in 1818 ended when he saw what he believed were mountains blocking the end of Lancaster Sound. In 1819 William Edward Parry got through it and went as far west as Melville Island. The sound was thoroughly explored during an extensive aerial mapping program of Northern Canada by the Canadian Government which took from the 1930s until the late 1950s to complete. Coincidentally, the type of aircraft that was used to complete the mapping program was the Avro Lancaster, a World War II heavy bomber which had been converted for mapping.

The Inuit and their ancestors have relied for thousands of years on the Sound's abundant natural wealth for food, clothing and shelter. Today, residents of the three Nunavut communities of Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, and Resolute continue this tradition, depending on its waters for their economic and cultural well being.


Ice cover, both land-fast ice and pack ice, is common for nine months of the year. A shore lead system ensures there are ice-free water areas.


Wildlife is rich and varied, with an immense amount of Arctic cod (30,000 tons worth) known to exist there. The Arctic cod is also part of the diet for many of the birds in Lancaster Sound and marine mammals. Many narwhal, beluga, bowhead whale (an endangered species), ringed, bearded and harp seals, walrus, polar bears, thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes, northern fulmars, black guillemots, Arctic terns, ivory gulls and snow geese all occupy the area.


In 1974, Norlands Petroleum Ltd was given approval-in-principle to drill an exploratory well in the middle of Lancaster Sound. Community opposition lead to the creation of an Environmental Assessment Review Panel that recommended in 1978 that Norlands proposal not be allowed until they could explain how exploratory drilling was compatible with current and future uses in Lancaster Sound.[2]

This area was not yet represented in the Canadian National Marine Conservation Areas systems, even though an attempt to do so at the request of local Inuit was made in 1987.

A preliminary Minerals and Energy Resource Assessment to create a National Marine Park was completed in 1989.[2]

On December 8, 2009, Canadian Environment Minister, Jim Prentice announced a $5 million feasibility study for a new National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) in Lancaster Sound.[3]

A National Marine Conservation Area designation precluded oil and gas development, and so questions arose when the Nunavut Impact Review Board approved a Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) Geological Survey of Canada proposal to perform seismic testing for oil within Lancaster and Jones Sound in August and September, 2010.[4] The new seismic tests were not part of the Mineral and Energy Resource Assessment (MERA) process necessary in establishing new parks. In June 2010, communities and groups came out against seismic testing in Lancaster and Jones Sound.[5][6]

In late June planned seismic tests were apparently scaled back. But then in late July NRCAN announced that plans for seismic testing were proceeding despite the unanimous opposition of Inuit communities and supporting organizations.[7]

In a major ruling on Aug 8, 2010 a Nunavut court sided with the Inuit and stopped the planned seismic testing citing the risks to marine animals and cultural heritage.[8] The federal Conservative government announced on December 6, 2010 that it will establish the boundaries of a new marine park in Lancaster Sound.[9]

In 2012 the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) issued a report on Lancaster Sound for North Baffin communities entitled: "Tallurutiup Tariunga Inulik: Inuit Participation in Determining the Future of Lancaster Sound". The report has two stated purposes; to provide Nunavut Land Claims Beneficiaries with an introduction to the proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA), and, to inform Parks Canada, the Government of Nunavut and those interested of Inuit perspectives on marine conservation. This report explains what an NMCA is, the history surrounding interests in Lancaster Sound, the importance of where boundaries are suggested, and discussion on the realities of Inuit cooperative management in Nunavut. "This report has been titled, Tallurutiup Tariunga Inulik, which means 'Lancaster Sound has people' and also 'Lancaster Sound has Inuit.' It is from the perspective of a homeland that QIA approaches discussions related to this great region."[10]

In June 2016 the park gained the potential to expand into an area recommended by QIA when Shell relinquished adjacent oil leases after a coalition of environmental groups argued that the leases had expired.[11]

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