Welcome to The Arctic Eider Society

We are a registered charity that works with Inuit to further development of community-based research, monitoring and education/outreach programs addressing environmental change in Arctic sea ice ecosystems.

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About AES

Help local communities protect sea ice ecosystems
Be a part of the solution
Support our campaign

Who we are

The Arctic Eider Society / Société Des Eiders de l’Arctique (AES~SEA; pronounced ‘icy’, or SEA~AES; pronounced ‘sea ice’) is a diverse and integrative team of Inuit, academics, educators, and communications specialists committed to preserving the integrity of sea ice ecosystems in Hudson Bay.


Despite longstanding concerns of local Inuit about the influence of environmental change and development projects on sea ice habitats and wildlife, Hudson Bay remains a critical but particularly understudied region of Arctic. Our programs are based on extensive collaborative efforts combining Inuit and scientific knowledge on sea ice ecosystems, identifying key priorities and indicators for assessing cumulative impacts, and establishing community based research, education and outreach programs.

Our Symbol: The Arctic Eider

Eider down is the warmest feather in the world and represents natures technology for storing energy in winter. This unique sub-species doesn’t migrate south, spending winter in sea ice habitats in the heart of Hudson Bay. Our community-based programs began in response to Inuit concerns about cumulative impacts of hydroelectric developments and major ice entrapments and die-offs of eiders. Eiders are a critical source of food and clothing for Inuit on the Belcher Islands, and symbolize the proverbial canary in the coal mine for environmental change in Hudson Bay. The Arctic Eider represents our culture and history, current changes in sea ice ecosystems, and our inspiration for the future: that there are indeed solutions that work with nature’s innovations, to store and distribute energy in a way that works with the seasons of the hydrological cycle.

Charitable Programs

The Belcher Islands landfast ice platform provides unique winter access to extensive oceanographic regions of east Hudson Bay, within skidoo access from the community of Sanikiluaq, where core programs are based. We are currently seeking funding to expand programs to coastal communities in eastern Hudson Bay in 2014. Development of a Hudson Bay Community Based Research Network will include cross community training, data integration and accessibility through an Interactive Web Portal, and is critical for assessing large scale cumulative impacts on winter sea ice ecosystems.
Systematic deployment of current and salinity profilers allow us to assess the extent and dynamics of freshwater plumes generated cumulatively from hydroelectric projects. Local hunters deploying oceanographic equipment throughout the year contribute to basic monitoring gaps that can be linked to satellite imagery of sea ice and wildlife monitoring efforts.

In addition to broad scale oceanographic surveys, in depth studies of salinity, bathymetery and currents are being conducted in key regions affected by winter freshwater inputs. This provides high resolution data linked to ecological studies at polynyas and floe edges and allows assessing the role of key sites as indicators of larger scale oceanographic conditions.

Custom time lapse imaging techniques have been developed since 2006 for use in harsh Arctic conditions in order to quantify sea ice extent and wildlife at recurring polynyas and floe edges within and between years. Deployments are made both underwater and above the ice using aerial structures. Images are taken at intervals ranging from every 20 seconds, to every 20 minutes capturing the full winter ice season.

Image processing is used to detect and measure ice edges and wildlife, producing time series data and video sequences. The resulting images allow Inuit communities to view results of their monitoring efforts and provide feedback, engaging them in research and providing novel ways to integrate Inuit and scientific knowledge.

To date, we have captured over 100 time lapse sequences of changing sea ice. We are currently seeking funding to make these publicly available, along with other monitoring data, through an Interactive Web Platform.

The increasing frequency and severity of wildlife entrapments and die-offs is of particular concern and understanding these events is a key priority for the program. (link to recent newsletter?) Unless they occur close to the community or near active hunting grounds, these events can go unnoticed. In conjunction with oceanography surveys, our programs provide increased coverage and early detection of entrapment events. Assessing changes to wildlife is also key for co-management efforts and sustaining populations for local subsistence and eiderdown collection.

In depth studies of sea ice ecology are also conducted at polynyas and floe edges. Eider ducks and beluga whales are a key indicators of variation in winter sea ice habitats. We employ an interdisciplinary approach to study the relationship between the foraging ecology of individuals and larger scale group and population dynamics, to evaluate how these are influenced by changing environmental processes.

A detailed study of the foraging ecology of eiders diving under the sea ice was recently published as a cover story in the prestigious journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society B”. You can access the full article here.

Heath, J.P., H.G. Gilchrist & R.C. Ydenberg. (2010) Interactions between rate processes with different time scales explain counter-intuitive foraging patterns of arctic wintering eiders. Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Science 277: 3179-3186.Robertson, G.J. and Gilchrist, H.G. 1998. Evidence of population declines among common eiders breeding in the Belcher Islands, Northwest Territories. Arctic 51: 378-385.J. P. Heath & H.G. Gilchrist (2010). When foraging becomes unprofitable: energetics of diving in tidal currents by common eiders wintering in the Arctic. Marine Ecology Progress Series 403:279-290.J. P. Heath, H.G. Gilchrist & R.C. Ydenberg (2007). Can diving models predict patterns of foraging behaviour? Diving by Common Eiders in an arctic polynya. Animal Behaviour 73:877-884.J. P. Heath, H.G. Gilchrist & R.C. Ydenberg (2006). Regulation of stroke patterns and swim speed across a range of current velocities: diving by Common Eiders wintering in polynyas in the Canadian arctic. Journal of Experimental Biology 209, 3974-3983.

Gilchrist, H. G. and Robertson, G. J. 2000. Observations of marine birds and mammals wintering at polynyas and ice edges in the Belcher Islands, Nunavut, Canada. Arctic 53, 61-68.

During winter, Inuit hunters regularly travel to different regions across the Belcher Islands land fast sea ice platform and have an in depth knowledge about the sea ice habitats and wildlife ecology. Key data gaps and priority indicators have been established through Inuit Knowledge studies in communities around Hudson Bay. Multimedia and GPS referencing techniques provide a way for Inuit to integrate qualitative observations and quantitative data collection.Interviews with hunters and elders, reporting systems of wildlife and sea ice conditions, and direct field research collaboration provides critical ecosystem information allowing a dialogue between western science and local knowledge towards addressing cumulative impacts on sea ice ecosystems.

1] McDonald, M., Arragutainaq, L, Novalinga, Z. (1997)Voices from the Bay: Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay Bioregion. Canadian Arctic Resources Committee & Environmental Commitee of Municipality of Sanikiluaq. Full Color, 98pp.Editor: Gillian et. al. with J.P. Heath & R. Brook. The value of integrating Traditional, Local and Scientific Knowledge. In: Riewe, R. and Oakes, J. [Eds.] Climate Change: Linking Traditional and Scientific Knowledge. Aboriginal Issues Press, Univ.ManitobaH.G.Gilchrist, J.P. Heath, L. Arragutainaq, et al. (2006) Combining scientific and local knowledge to study common eider ducks wintering in Hudson Bay In: Riewe, R. and Oakes, J. [Eds.] Climate Change: Linking Traditional and Scientific Knowledge. Aboriginal Issues Press, Univ.Manitoba.
  • Working with Communities

    The Arctic Eider Society assists Inuit in community-based environmental research and monitoring programs. Our goal is to further Inuit knowledge and provide active hunters with oceanographic and environmental monitoring equipment to quantify the changes they are observing, linking traditional and western approaches to science to address cumulative impacts of environmental change on sea ice ecosystems.

  • Research Focus

    Research programs aim to address cumulative impacts of environmental change and development projects on the marine ecosystem of Hudson Bay. This involves understanding how hydroelectricity demands influence the extent and dynamics of freshwater plumes under winter sea ice, including changes to salinity, currents and sea ice dynamics at polynyas and floe edges. Impacts on winter ecology and wildlife are also addressed including benthic invertebrates and entrapment events of eiders, belugas and other marine organisms.

Support AES

Help local communities protect sea ice ecosystems
Be a part of the solution
Support our campaign

Support our charitable programs working with Inuit to address cumulative impacts of environmental change on sea ice ecosystems


Knowledge & Solutions

Our electricity demands have direct implications on sea ice ecosystems, thousands of miles away, affecting people, animals, ocean currents and seasonality. A particular concern in the Arctic is that freshwater can freeze quicker and at warmer temperatures than salt water, causing unprecedented freeze-ups and entrapments of wildlife during winter cold snaps. At large scales, freshwater entering the North Atlantic is a major driver of ocean circulation can rapidly affect global climate through the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream system. Despite concerns of Inuit about the influence of changing freshwater regimes on currents, sea ice habitats and wildlife, cumulative impacts of hydroelectric projects on the marine environment remain unaddressed.



The current approach to hydroelectricity involves massive infrastructure, diverting rivers and storing water as potential energy behind dams. River flow is based on electricity demands. Capturing energy in phase with the hydrological cycle could be achieved by storing and distributing hydropower in new ways.

For example, the east coast of North America has major energy demands for electricity and shipping that do coincide with the hydrological cycle and many small communities in direct proximity to hydroelectric developments still rely on diesel fuel to generate electricity. By storing energy in other forms besides water behind the dam, Hydroelectric projects could mitigate impacts on the hydrological cycle and at the same time provide the capacity for other sectors such as shipping to transition to cleaner energy sources. *

AES in Action

Hudson Bay

Inuit Culture

People of a Feather Trailer

Trailer for the AES~SEA Award winning critically acclaimed film.

Community Based Monitoring

A short video outlining our Community Based Research and Monitoring of sea ice ecosystems in Hudson Bay, and efforts to address cumulative impacts of hydroelectric developments.

Videos & Photos


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Where we are

Our programs are based in the heart of Hudson Bay, from the community of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut and other communities in the region.

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  • Contact our head office:
  • Arctic Eider Society
  • PO Box 95078, RPO Kingsgate
  • Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • V5T 4T8
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