Nanuit Itillinga National Wildlife Area

Nanuit Itillinga (formerly known as Polar Bear Pass) National Wildlife Area (NWA), in Nunavut, supports many bird species and some mammals including species at risk such as Peary caribou.


Nanuit Itillinga NWA is located on Bathurst Island. This is in the heart of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. The NWA is 263, 648 hectares (ha) in size. This makes it one of the largest NWA’s in Canada.

The NWA has unusual gathering and diversity of wildlife for its latitude. The area consists of a valley bordered by low hills up to 240 metres high. It has large wetlands where polygon ground patterns and other rarities exist, caused by frost and thaw cycles. Covering the floor of the valley is a relatively thick mat, including:

The surrounding ridges are mostly desert, as is around 95% of the Canadian High Arctic.

Polar bear on ice float
Polar bear

The NWA supports at least 54 species of birds. This includes 30 breeding species, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds. Red phalarope are likely the most abundant nesting species. Brant also breed here, but this population migrates over Greenland to winter in Ireland. Various species of mammals occur in the NWA including:

Peary caribou is an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act. Its populations have fluctuated dramatically over the years.

Perry Caribo walking on land
Peary caribou at Nanuit Itillinga NWA. Photo: Lisa Pirie

As the NWA name implies, polar bears pass through the area in spring and summer. They do so on their way to Graham Moore Bay, to the southwest. This is an important feeding area where they find walrus and ringed seals.

Several studies by High Arctic field research station had been conducted. These studies serve as the source of much scientific information on Arctic flora and fauna. From 1968-1993, the National Museum of Natural Sciences operated the research station. They conducted studies on the life histories and behavioral adaptations of arctic animals at Polar Bear Pass. As a result, the Bracebridge-Goodsir Inlet area was first identified for protection under the International Biological Program (IBP) in the 1970's. The area was declared a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1982.

Nanuit Itillinga (Polar Bear Pass) was designated as a NWA in September 1986, due to many consultations with:

Find more information on the Nanuit Itillinga NWA in the summary table below.


Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all other activities are prohibited in all NWAs. However, some activities may be authorized through Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWA Management and Activities section.

Nanuit Itillinga NWA is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Inuit from Resolute Bay, NU as part of a co-management agreement established through the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area (IIBA). The Sulukvaut Area Co-Management Committee (ACMC) was formed through the IIBA and provides advice on all aspects of NWA management and all significant policy decisions affecting the NWA, including Inuit use of the NWA, permit applications, research conducted within the NWA, visitor use of the area, and management and protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

In Nunavut, Nunavut Inuit, as per the Nunavut Agreement (NA), can hunt wildlife, including the collection of migratory bird eggs and feathers for their economic, social and cultural needs (Section 5 of the NA). Access to  Nanuit Itillinga NWA by anyone other than Inuit enrolled under the NA is restricted; therefore, any non-Nunavut Inuit must obtain a permit to access or conduct any activity within the Nanuit Itillinga NWA. Activities that may be permitted will be in accordance with the conservation objectives of the NWA management plan (currently in development).

More information on access and permitting for Nanuit Itillinga NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the area

Map - See long description below
Map of  the Nanuit Itillinga National Wildlife  Area
Long description

This map shows a portion of Bathurst Island, Nunavut, between Queens Channel and Graham Moore Bay. The boundaries of the Nanuit Itillinga National Wildlife Area are indicated. The protected area covers the portion of land between the two channels and the bay as well as a small portion of the adjacent waters. The scale on the map is in kilometers. Permanent water is indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA’s location in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

Summary table for Nanuit Itillinga NWA
Category Information
Protected Area designation NWA
Province/territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 75°43' North / 98°40'West
Size 263,648 ha
Reason for creation of protected area
  • supports regionally significant wildlife populations
  • supports many archaeological sites
Date created (Gazetted) 1985 - Legal Description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Strict Nature Reserve (Ia)
Additional designations
Keystone or flagship species
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Birds:


Main habitat type
  • wetlands
  • low hills
  • a small marine portion
Invasive species None recorded
Other species Birds:


Main threats and challenges
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage Nunavut Inuit have a free and unrestricted right of access for the purpose of harvesting to all lands, waters, and marine areas within the NWA, as per Article 5 of the IIBA and subject to s.5.7.18 of the Nunavut Agreement.

For all non-Nunavut Inuit, a permit must be obtained to access or conduct any type of activity in the NWA.

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page, any notice posted at the NWA site and the law, the law prevails.

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
Eastern Arctic Unit
P. O. Box 1870
Iqaluit, Nunavut
X0A 0H0

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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