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Over 400 specimens of mammals, chiefly skulls and skins, representing at least 22 species, were collected during the CAE by Dr. Anderson, his colleagues and their assistants. Some specimens were traded from the local Inuit, particularly muskoxen, as at that time they were rare in the western and central Arctic.

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Koata and a young woman in front of tent, drinking caribou broth from a muskox horn ladle, Berens Islands, Coronation Gulf, Nunavut. May 28, 1915. GHW 50917. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization


Muskox head and robe (hide), Sachs Harbour. June 1996. Source: David Gray

Arctic ground squirrel

The Arctic ground squirrel, known locally as "sik-sik," was used traditionally as a source of food and furs for use in trimming or making parkas. Arctic ground squirrel live as far up as the northern coast but are not found on any of the Arctic islands. They hibernate in burrows dug in sandy ground, disappearing for the year in September or early October, depending on weather. Today ground squirrel hides are still used in trimming fancy parkas and traditional dancing hats.

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Arctic ground squirrel at Bernard Harbour, Nunavut. June 23, 1915. GHW 50959. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization


Arctic ground squirrel

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Nauyaina, an Umingmuktogmiut man about 40, with Arctic ground squirrel skin coat, Cape Barrow, Coronation Gulf, Nunavut. May 14, 1916. RMA 38985. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization


Arctic ground squirrel near Bloody Fall on Coppermine River. September 28, 2002. Source: David Gray


Of all the mammals collected by the CAE, lemmings collected on Borden Island represent the northernmost specimens.

"Near here on a grassy mount I found a dead lemming. Probably it has been dead for some time, for it was in the midst of the change of coat. The one we caught alive two days ago had its full summer coat. Evidently owls and foxes are not numerous about here. We have not seen either this trip" (Wilkins Diary, Banks Island, May 28, 1916).

Arctic Wolves

Members of the CAE had many encounters with Arctic wolves. Wolves often competed with the northern exploration parties, in that both were hunting the same prey: caribou and muskoxen. Expedition caches of caribou and seal meat were raided by wolves on Banks and Melville Islands. At times men were posted to guard caches of caribou meat until they could be sledded back to the base camp.


Arctic wolf, mounted for museum display. This is the same wolf that bit Jenness, as in the photo below. Source: Canadian Museum of Nature

Wolf Attack

Diamond Jenness had perhaps the most exciting and unusual encounter with a wolf. On the trip up the Coppermine River in February 1915 Jenness was attacked by a female wolf when he tried to drive it away from his dog team. Accounts in three Expedition diaries make this one of the best-documented of the extremely rare attacks by a wolf.

"Wed. 10e 8 am finished breakfast dogs barked Johansen went out and there was a big white wolf, amongst our dogs. we ran out and got rifles out when Jennes[s] throwed a big rock at her she went for him and and [sic] bit him in the arm he let go and walked a way again then Doc shot him length 5' 1" nose to end of tail tail 16 1/2, female. stayed over and made a cache." (Castel Diary, February 1915).

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Temporary tent camp, dead white wolf in foreground that bit the wrist of D. Jenness, north of Bloody Fall, Coppermine River, Nunavut. February 10, 1915. RMA 39130. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization


Joe Allen Evyagotailak in willow thicket at possible site of 1915 wolf attack on Diamond Jenness, Coppermine River. September 28, 2002. Source: David Gray

The wound was not too serious and healed quickly. The wolf was taken back to Ottawa, mounted in a lifelike position by the National Museum taxidermist, and put on display for many years. The wolf was returned to public display at the Canadian Museum of Nature in the 1980s.

Aklak - Grizzly bear

Grizzly bears were encountered along the Arctic coast during the CAE and several were collected for the museum. Bears were, and are still, a potential threat to people in the area, especially to the men who hunted them without firearms. Diamond Jenness, expedition anthropologist, had to treat a local man named Ayalik who had his thumb bitten off by a Grizzly he was trying to kill.

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Barren-land grizzly bear shot by Dr. R.M. Anderson, Cox, and O'Neill at the head of Arctic Sound, Bathurst Inlet, Nunavut. August 28, 1915. JJO 38567. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Grizzly bears are commonly seen along the coast in the autumn, when they search for berries, ground squirrels, and other food before hibernation. Tracks, pits, and other signs of digging for Arctic ground squirrels indicate their presence, though they are usually seen only at night. Community warnings about problem bears are posted and troubling bears are shot, with the meat shared around the community.


Kugluktuk bear warning. Source: David Gray


Wolf and grizzly bear tracks in mudbanks along the shore of Coppermine River. September 28, 2002. Source: David Gray


Tundra berries above Coppermine River, south of Bloody Fall, September 28, 2002. Source: David Gray

Polar Bears

Polar bears were an important source of food for the men and dogs of the Northern Party. Some of the many bears shot were made into specimens and sent to Ottawa. Two bears cubs collected by Natkusiak at a whale carcass near Kellett Base in December 1914 were made into museum skins by Wilkins and survived the long journey to Ottawa. In 1934 they were mounted by the National Museum taxidermist and became part of a polar bear diorama which lasted from 1940 to 1969. One of these cubs is now on loan to a travelling exhibit on climate change, opening in Quebec City in 2003.


Polar bear diorama at the National Museum of Canada, 1940 (with cubs that Natkusiak shot in 1914). Source: Canadian Museum of Nature


Polar Bear skull, Cape Bathurst, NWT, November 12, 1914. "Shot by Mike [Siberia]"
3-D model: Paul Bloskie, © Canadian Museum of Nature, specimen no. 2983.

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"Saw a large Polar Bear swimming in the sea about 2 miles west of Baillie Island. We turned about 400 yards out of our course to run close to him and every camera on board...took snap shots at him. The bear swam almost as fast as the ship went (about 6 miles per hour) and piled the foam up ahead of beam, leaving a wake like a steam boat" (R.M.Anderson Diary, August 1916).

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Polar bear swimming in the ocean about thirty feet in front of CAE schooner Alaska, two miles from Baillie Islands, Amundsen Gulf, N.W.T. July 26, 1916. RMA 39469. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization


The short-tailed weasel or ermine (Mustela erminea) has a wide distribution in the northern hemisphere. In North America it is found throughout Alaska and all of Canada except parts of the Prairies. The species' range extends throughout the Arctic islands, north to the Arctic coast of Ellesmere Island and northern Greenland. In the North American Arctic this weasel is also known by several variations of the local name, e.g., tigiak, tegiak, tereak, tiriak, and tiriaq.
The ermine's summer coat is a chocolate brown above with a creamy-white underside. In northern regions, the entire coat is white in winter, except for the tail, which is tipped with black in all seasons. The average length is between 236 and 272 mm. Males are generally larger than females. Weasel breed in April, with the young being born in May, depending on latitude.

In the north, their main prey species are brown and varying lemmings, and nestling birds, especially snow buntings. Although there is little information, it is likely that they also prey on young Arctic ground squirrels and young Arctic hares. They may be important in controlling lemming population cycles. Although never locally abundant, they are widespread throughout the Arctic.

Well-adapted to life on snow, ermine travel on the snow surface and also burrow under the snow and use runways made by lemmings. With good colour and night vision, ermine are primarily nocturnal, and the low light of Arctic winter likely causes no hardships. Remaining active during the winter, ermine obtain their prey, mainly lemmings, by pursuing them in their burrows. Ermine often take over the burrow of their prey species and winter nests are found lined with masses of lemming fur. Excess food may be cached for later use, particularly in fall and winter.

Ermines are in turn hunted by wolverine, Arctic and red foxes, and snowy owls. Weasel skulls are often found in snowy owl pellets. Ermine show little fear of humans and may become established in and around camps. Their rapid and erratic movements however make them a difficult subject for photography.

Although weasels were not prominent in traditional Native use in North America, their skins were used to decorate clothing. The Copper Inuit of the western Canadian Arctic highly prized ermine skins for use on their ceremonial dancing caps and suspended them from the back of their coats as charms for luck in hunting or against sickness.