Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 85–93 | Cite as

Ecological influences of Thule Inuit whalers on high Arctic pond ecosystems: a comparative paleolimnological study from Bathurst Island (Nunavut, Canada)

  • Kristopher R. Hadley
  • Marianne S. V. Douglas
  • Robert McGhee
  • Jules M. Blais
  • John P. Smol
Original paper


Until recently, major anthropogenic impacts on freshwater ecosystems were believed to be rare in North America prior to the period of European colonization. However, recent paleolimnological and archaeological data collected from the Canadian Arctic suggest that the whaling activities of Thule Inuit, who lived in small, nomadic communities, altered freshwater ecosystems centuries earlier. Using a comparative paleolimnological approach from two ponds situated adjacent to a former Thule winter settlement on south-eastern Bathurst Island (Nunavut, Arctic Canada), we record marked ecological changes in pond ecology due to eutrophication from the Thule’s activities. The geography of our study site provided an interesting and rare opportunity for a comparative paleolimnological study of long-term Thule impacts on polar limnology, because our two study ponds (only ~50 m apart) were nearly identical in size and in geological and climatic settings, but differed markedly in the magnitude of Thule influence. Here, we recorded striking changes in diatom species assemblages, spectrally-inferred primary production, and nutrient geochemistry, indicating eutrophication in a small pond draining 18 Thule whale houses. Input of marine-derived nutrients from sea mammal carcasses used by the Thule for both sustenance and the construction of winter settlements, as well as other anthropogenic activities, coincided with a notable increase in the eutrophic diatom taxon Stephanodiscus minutulus, whereas no comparable changes were recorded in the nearby control pond for the duration of the sedimentary record. Although the diatom changes recorded in the affected site persisted after the period of Thule occupation, the most recent sediments and water chemistry suggest that the pond has largely recovered to near pre-impact conditions.


Arctic Paleolimnology Archaeology Bathurst Island Thule Whaling Diatoms Nitrogen Eutrophication 



The authors wish to thanks Catherine Crawley, Bronwyn Keatley, Allison Day, John Glew and Wes Blake Jr. for assistance in the field. This work has been made possible by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Polar Continental Shelf Project research grants of John P. Smol and Marianne S.V. Douglas, as well as a Northern Scientific Training Program grant to Kristopher Hadley. We also acknowledge Linda Kimpe and the G.G. Hatch Stable Isotope Laboratory at the University of Ottawa for isotope analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristopher R. Hadley
    • 1
  • Marianne S. V. Douglas
    • 2
  • Robert McGhee
    • 3
  • Jules M. Blais
    • 4
  • John P. Smol
    • 1
  1. 1.Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL), Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Earth and Atmospheric Sciences DepartmentUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.Curator Emeritus, Canadian Museum of CivilizationGatineauCanada
  4. 4.Program for Chemical and Environmental Toxicology, Department of BiologyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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