Nunavut Trichinella Detection Program

Since 2017, Nunavut Arctic College and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) have worked together to offer a Trichinella diagnostic testing service for Nunavummiut.  Trichinella are tiny nematode parasites that can infect most mammals and some vertebrates including birds and reptiles.  Trichinella are present throughout the world; and the species of Trichinella found in the Arctic (Trichinella nativa) is known to infect Walrus, Polar Bear, and several other marine and terrestrial mammals.  Trichinella nativa have adapted to Arctic conditions and can survive for long periods of time (years) in the muscle tissues of an infected animal, even after the animal has been harvested. Trichienlla nativa can also survive in frozen tissues.  People who consume raw or uncooked meat from an animal infected with Trichinella might become sick with an illness called Trichinelosis (or Trichinosis); and there have been several outbreaks of Trichinelosis in Nunavut linked to the consumption of infected walrus meat.  

The only way to find out whether an animal is infected is by identifying Trichinella larvae in that animal's muscle tissues.  The NRI's diagnostic program uses a special laboratory technique developed by the The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) called the Double Separatory Funnel Procedure to detect trichinella larvae in animal tongue tissues.  Our testing is focused primarily on Walrus and Polar Bear; although the diagnostic procedure can be used on almost any mammal.  The NRI's diagnostic program follows a quality assurance plan, and all of our local analysts complete proficiency evaluations twice each year with the Canada Food Inspection Agency.  This ensures that our analysts are competent and capable to provide this important service to Nunavummiut.  NRI and NTI are working to help prevent Trichinelosis infection and to support Nunavummiut in enjoying their traditional country foods. Beginning in 2023, Nunavut Arctic College’s research laboratory in Rankin Inlet was equipped to provide trichinella detection services for Kivalliq communities!

As of December 2023, NRI and NTI have tested 340 walrus, 65 polar bears & 1 Killer whale (Orca) from 16 communities.  Out analysts have detected Trichinella parasites in 11 walrus,36 polar bears & 1 Orca which has allowed the Department of Health to issue advisories to help prevent Trichinosis outbreaks.  Having a diagnostic program in Nunavut operated entirely by community members allows for much faster return of test results to Nunavummiut


We also deliver hands-on Trichinella detection workshops and demonstrations to NAC students, researchers, and other interested groups.  Contact us at any time if you'd like a demonstration or a tour of our laboratory!


Nunavut Trichinosis prevention program requires close collaboration between the College, NTI, the Departments of Health and Environment, the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), local HTOs, and individual harvesters throughout Nunavut.

To learn more about how to collect and submit wildlife samples for testing, click here (English) or here (ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ).  Please be sure to include a sample submission form (English or ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ) with every sample you send us for testing! 

Daniel Taukie (NTI) and Jamal Shirley (NRI) examine digested walrus tongue samples to identify trichinella larvae

Daniel Taukie (NTI) and Jamal Shirley (NRI) examine digested walrus tongue samples to identify trichinella larvae

Joel Mike (NRI) prepares walrus tongue samples for analysis

Joel Mike (NRI) prepares walrus tongue samples for analysis

Digital photograph of coiled trichinella larvae (middle right above) microscope at 40x magnification

Digital photograph of coiled trichinella larvae (middle right above) microscope at 40x magnification


Research Support Fund

The Research Support Fund assists the Nunavut Research Institute (NRI) in supporting research activities funded by Canada's three federal granting agencies. Further information on the fund can found at NRI has utilized the Research Support Fund for a variety of improvements to our library, laboratories and administrative areas to better support a broad range of research activities.

Funds received in 2021-2022 were used primarily for the management and administration of on-going research projects, for professional development of the institute's staff, for upgrades to the NRI website, and for renewal of periodicals and fees associated with the NRI research library.


Geomagnetic Observatory

The Geomagnetic Observatory in Iqaluit is only one of two functioning magnetic observatories in Nunavut and is owned by the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC).  NRI staff help to maintain the observatory and we also collect data there weekly to ensure that the instruments are functioning properly. The Iqaluit station data are utilized by the GSC along with data from other stations around the world to calculate the earth’s magnetic declination (position of the North Magnetic Pole), which appears to be drifting gradually over time for reasons not completely clear. This information is also used for monitoring predicting geomagnetic storms that can affect navigation, global positioning, and telecommunications systems worldwide.



Partnership for integrated hydrological monitoring, research, and training, in the Apex River watershed

With funding from POLAR Knowledge Canada, the NRI and NAC's Environmental Technology Program partnered with researchers from Carleton University, Queen’s University and Environment and Climate Change Canada to conduct a three-year water research and training project in the Niaqungut (Apex) River watershed.  Activities include measurement and modelling of water quality and quantity, with a major focus on accurate determination of the annual, end-of-winter snow accumulation with intensive ground-based surveys. 

Each April, snow surveys are conducted by ETP students over the course of 3-5 days to quantify the landscape snow water equivalent or SWE (the amount of water stored in snowpack on the landscape) prior to the spring melt period.  Automated measurement of snowfall amounts is particularly challenging in Arctic tundra landscapes due to high winds, making it important to measure the end of winter SWE on the ground.   These data can be used to accurately track year-to-year changes in annual snowfall, which accounts for about half of the annual precipitation in this region, and its potential longer-term changes in response to climate warming.  This partnership aims to build capacity for long-term SWE monitoring and to continue this important observation record for years to come, in support of water balance assessment and water security initiatives in the community of Iqaluit.

Freshwater quality monitoring of the Niaqungut River was also conducted from 2012 to 2017, including weekly stream sampling for dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen, total nitrogen and phosphorous, and major anions and cations.  At one nearby lake, water quality and zooplankton sampling was conducted in early July and in late September just prior to freeze-up.  Zooplankton samples are enumerated for both total biomass and species composition, and measured for total mercury content.  These data will be used to understand seasonal and inter-annual variability in surface water quality regimes and how they are influenced by hydrologic processes and change.  Our goal is to continue these sampling efforts as part of a longer-term monitoring issue, in combination with hydrometric gauging and annual, end-of-winter snow surveys. 

In 2017, POLAR funds were received to install a new micrometeorology station approximately 4 km from the community of Iqaluit, including a state-of-the-art Eddy Covariance (EC) system for measuring water, energy and carbon dioxide exchange over the tundra ecosystem.  The EC system is currently operational and is filling an important data gap for this region of Canada’s eastern Arctic.

Rindy Hinanik Measures snow depth in the Niaqungut watershed using a snow coring tube (April, 2016)


Apex River Microbial Monitoring Project

In 2009, NRI initiated a project to monitor indicator bacteria (total coliforms and Escherichia coli) in the Apex (Niaqungut) river, which has been selected as a supplementary potable water source for the community of Iqaluit. This long-term monitoring program has been conducted annually every year since 2009 and will provide baseline information on microbial water quality trends during the annual open water period (approximately from June to October). We hope to determine the timing of seasonal peak loads of bacteria, and understand how factors such as river discharge, water temperature, and organic carbon might influence bacteria levels. Every year we work with students from Arctic College's Environmental Technology Program to collect and test river water samples from drinking water collection sites utlized by community members. Water samples are processed at the NRI's water lab in Iqaluit using defined substrate technology (IDEXX) which allows for rapid, reliable, and simple detection and enumeration of total coliforms and E. coli in surface waters and can be employed effectively for community-based monitoring.

For more information on the water monitoring project, please contact Jamal Shirley, NRI's Manager of Research Design.


Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic

Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic (ReSDA) is a major research collaboration that brings together a broad range of disciplines and organizations representing universities, colleges, communities, government, the private sector and non-profits in northern Canada and other circumpolar countries. This northern research network has offices in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Nunavik. The network's research is all focused on one key question: How can we ensure that a larger share of the benefits of resource development stay in the region with fewer costs to communities?

Beginning April 1, 2011 this network started to develop, conduct and mobilize research aimed at the sustainable development of Arctic natural resources in a manner that will improve the health and well-being of Canada's northern communities while preserving the region's unique environment. For more information visit the ReSDA website.