Sea Ice Crossing by Migrating Caribou, Rangifer tarandus, in Northwestern Alaska


  • Kyle Joly National Park Service, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Arctic Inventory and Monitoring Network, 4175 Geist Road, Fairbanks, Alaska 99709



Caribou, Rangifer tarandus, climate change, migration, sea ice, Western Arctic Herd, Alaska


Long movements across sea ice by Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Alaska are relatively uncommon and are not well documented. With rapidly diminishing sea ice cover in arctic waters, these movements may cease altogether. On 26 May 2012, a Caribou crossed a long span (57 km) of sea ice off the coast of Alaska. The cow successfully crossed after traveling 66 km on the sea ice and eventually reached the calving grounds. The highly dynamic nature of sea ice, which is driven by oceanic currents and wind during spring break-up, presents inherent hazards different from lake ice. Based on three years of Global Positioning System (GPS) radio-collar data, Caribou routinely crossed long expanses (30 km) of ice covering the brackish Selawik Lake and shorter stretches (<13 km) on Inland Lake during their spring migration north. There was also a single crossing on the ice covering Selawik Lake during the fall migration south to the wintering grounds that took place in early November 2010. Five GPS-collared Caribou crossed the short frozen span (14 km) of Kotzebue Sound between Cape Krusenstern National Monument and the Baldwin Peninsula in the fall of 2011.