Baffin Island (Inuktitut: ᕿᑭᖅᑖᓗᒃ, Qikiqtaaluk) is an island in Nunavut, Canada. It's the world's fifth largest island. It is larger in area than Spain, but has a population of only 13,000 people (2016). It lies to the west of Greenland, across the Baffin Bay.
- 1 Iqaluit — the capital of Nunavut Territory
- 2 Pangnirtung — the starting point for trekkers departing for the Akshayuk Pass in Auyuittuq National Park
- 3 Pond Inlet — one of Canada's "Jewels of the North": one of the most picturesque communities with mountain ranges viewable from all directions; icebergs are most often accessible from the community within walking distance or a short snowmobile ride in winter
- 1 Auyuittuq National Park — scenic fjords, glaciated mountains, rushing rivers, huge glaciers, and the Penny Ice Cap
- Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, near Iqaluit, had some excellent tundra scenery, hiking trails, and good fishing.
- Qaummaarviit Territorial Park, off the coast to the south of Iqaluit, preserves a 750-year-old campsite of the Thule culture.
It was named by English colonists after English explorer William Baffin. Historians believe it is likely that Pre-Columbian Norse explorers from Greenland and Iceland knew of the island. They believe it is the site of Helluland, referred to in the Icelandic sagas.
Baffin Island has been inhabited for over 3,000 years by ancestors of the Inuit, who have lived on the island for the last thousand years. In late 985 or 986, Bjarni Herjólfsson, sailing from Iceland to Viking settlements in Greenland, was blown off course and sighted land southwest of Greenland. Bjarni appears to be the first European to see Baffin Island, and the first European to see North America beyond Greenland. About 15 years later that the Norse Greenlanders, led by Leif Erikson, a son of Erik the Red, started exploring new areas around the year 1000. Baffin Island is thought to be Helluland, and the archaeological site at Tanfield Valley is thought to have been a trading post.
Baffin Island has both year-round and summer visitor wildlife. On land, examples of year-round wildlife are barren-ground caribou, polar bear, Arctic fox, Arctic hare, lemming and Arctic wolf.
Barren-ground caribou herds migrate in a limited range from northern Baffin Island down to the southern part in winter, even to the Frobisher Bay peninsula, next to Resolution Island, then migrating back north in the summer. Arctic hares are found throughout Baffin Island. Their fur is pure white in winter and moults to a scruffy dark grey in summer. Lemmings are also found throughout the island and are a major food source for Arctic foxes, Arctic wolves and the snowy owl.
Polar bears can be found all along the coast of Baffin Island but are most prevalent where the sea ice takes the form of pack ice, where their major food sources—ringed seals (jar seal) and bearded seals—live.
Arctic foxes can usually be found where polar bears venture on the fast ice close to land in their search for seals. Arctic foxes are scavengers and often follow polar bears to get their leavings. The Arctic wolf and the Baffin Island wolf are also year-round residents of Baffin Island.
Nesting birds are summer land visitors to Baffin Island. Baffin Island is one of the major nesting destinations from the Eastern and Mid-West flyways for many species of migrating birds. Waterfowl include Canada goose, snow goose and brant goose (brent goose). Shore birds include the phalarope, various waders (commonly called sandpipers), murres including Brünnich's guillemot, and plovers. Three gull species also nest on Baffin Island: glaucous gull, herring gull and ivory gull. Long-range travellers include the Arctic tern, which migrates from Antarctica every spring. The varieties of water birds that nest here include coots, loons, mallards, and many other duck species.
In the water (and under the ice), the main year-round species is the ringed seal. In winter, it makes a number of breathing holes in the ice, up to 2.4 m (8 ft) thick. It visits each one often to keep the hole open and free from ice. Water species that visit Baffin Island in the summer are:
- Harp seals (or saddle-backed seals), which migrate from major breeding grounds off the coast of Labrador and the southeast coast of Greenland to Baffin Island for the summer.
- Walruses, which do not migrate far off land in the winter. They merely follow the "fast ice", or ice that is solidly attached to land, and stay ahead of it as the ice hardens further and further out to sea. When the ice melts, they move in to land and can be found basking on rocks close to shore. One of the largest walrus herds can be found in the Foxe Basin on the western side of Baffin Island.
- Beluga or white whales migrate along the coast of Baffin Island; some head north to the feeding grounds in the Davis Strait between Greenland and Baffin Island, or into the Hudson Strait or any of the bays and estuaries in between. They can often be found very close to shore (100 m [330 ft] or less).
- Narwhals, which are known for the males' long, spiralling single tusk, can also be found along the coast of Baffin Island in the summer. They also can be often found close to the shoreline, gracefully pointing their tusks skyward as they come up for air.
- The bowhead whale is found throughout the Arctic range. One group of bowhead whales is known to migrate to the Foxe Basin, a bay on the western side of Baffin Island.
Baffin Island lies in the path of a generally northerly airflow all year round, so, like much of northeastern Canada, it has an extremely cold climate. This brings very long, cold winters and foggy, cloudy summers, which have helped to add to the remoteness of the island. Spring thaw arrives much later than normal for a position straddling the Arctic Circle: around early June at Iqaluit in the south-east but around early- to mid-July on the north coast where glaciers run right down to sea level. Snow, even heavy snow, can occur at any time of the year, although it is least likely in July and early August.
Sea ice surrounds the island for most of the year and only disappears completely from the north coast for short, unpredictable periods from mid- to late June until the end of September.
Polar nights and midnight sun
Most of Baffin Island lies north of the Arctic Circle: all communities from Pangnirtung northwards have polar night in winter and midnight sun in summer. The eastern community of Clyde River has twilight instead of night from April 26 until May 13, continuous sunlight for 2½ months from May 14 to July 28, then twilight instead of night from July 29 until August 16. This gives the community just over 3½ months without true night. In the winter, the sun sets on November 22 and does not rise again until January 19 of the next year. Pond Inlet has civil twilight from December 16 to December 26. However, there is twilight for at least 4 hours per day, unlike places such as Eureka.
1 Iqaluit Airport (YFB IATA). Iqaluit Airport scheduled passenger services from Ottawa, Montreal, Rankin Inlet, and smaller communities throughout eastern Nunavut. Services also connect to Yellowknife and Winnipeg via Rankin Inlet.
In the smaller communities (less than 3,000), ATVs and trucks are used during the short summer (when there is no snow).
In the winter, snowmobiles are the main way of getting around. Dog sleds are also used but owning and maintaining a dog team can be a very costly endeavour. Getting to and from the different communities can only be done by air; there are no roads linking the different population centres in the territory.
Home to Auyuittuq National Park, which features remarkable arctic scenery, midnight sun in the summer, hiking trails, and wildlife. Inuit carvings/art are available.
You can take guided dog sled tours, and sleep in an igloo.
The Northern Lights can often be seen, though it depends on both season and weather. Perhaps surprisingly, the display is generally better on the southern end of the island rather than further north, because the south is on the oval where the lights are most intense.
The capital, Iqaluit, has a few buildings of interest: the territorial legislature, a museum, and an igloo-shaped Anglican Church.
Guided excursions around the island and Arctic expeditions further afield organized by outfitters (there are several in Iqaluit) are the principal way of seeing Nunavut's truly great outdoors. Summer activities include trekking, and boat and fishing tours in Frobisher Bay. In the winter months, dog-sledding journeys are an excellent way to get out and explore the landscape.
The Itijjagiaq Trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail system, runs 177 km from Iqaluit and Kimmirut. It does not connect to other parts of the Trans Canada Trail. One branch heads north for several kilometres, while the other begins with a navigable water trail about 25 km across Frobisher Bay to the Katannilik Territorial Park on Meta Incognita Peninsula.
There is no 9-1-1 emergency number in Nunavut. Use the local seven-digit numbers to reach individual emergency services in each community.