In Manitoba’s far north lies one of our most vast and little known wilderness areas, the Seal River watershed. Covering 46,000 square km (an area larger than Denmark), this pristine landscape encircles a realm of unimaginable natural beauty with a richness of geography and ecology unparalleled in our province. CPAWS Manitoba is exploring options for protecting the integrity of this area to ensure it remains intact for future generations to enjoy.
As the northernmost of Manitoba’s great rivers, the Seal River is the only one that still flows freely, unhindered by dams and other industrial developments. Its path spans 260 km from its source (Shethanei Lake) to Hudson Bay, yet it is roughly 200 km from the coast that the waters are first greeted by eager and unexpected ambassadors of the ocean: harbour seals. In this location, the river’s namesake animal likely strays further from their marine environment than anywhere else on earth.
Carving a path east through untouched subarctic forest the surrounding landscape plays host to black bear, wolf, fox and wolverine, as well as moose, beaver, otter, eagle, osprey and boreal songbirds. Swooping from cliffs along the rivers’edge, cliff swallows nest here at the northern limit of their range.
The scents of spruce and lichen mingle as the landscape transitions to tundra (where the long extirpated grizzly bear is making a provincial return) and to the peat rich soils of the Hudson Bay lowlands, North America’s largest wetland.
An overwhelmingly crucial presence on the physical and cultural landscape is the hundreds of thousands of animals of the Qaminuriak caribou herd. These majestic creatures travel south from Nunavut to winter near the Seal River. Traditionally hunted by Inuit and Dene communities of present day Nunavut and northern Manitoba, these animals are an irreplaceable part of the ecosystem and a spectacular representation of Canada’s wild landscape that we cannot afford to compromise.
Where the river meets the coast, a designated Important Bird Area sees significant numbers of Black Scoter in the summertime. Additionally, 3000 beluga whales, part of the planet’s highest concentration, gather to give birth in the estuary. A few short months later, polar bears congregate in anticipation of sea ice formation.
With very little human use within the entire watershed, the landscape bears few visible signs of human impact. However, while major industrial projects have yet to make a mark, the situation may soon change as the northward push for mineral resources increases.
In an effort to preserve the essence of Manitoba’s last undammed great river, CPAWS is working with First Nations, local residents and industries to encourage the province to launch a consultation process with the ultimate goal of ensuring the watershed remains ecologically fully-functioning while safeguarding the opportunity for sustainable businesses which benefit regional people.
Public awareness and support has proven to be an incredibly effective tool in the process of achieving protected areas in Manitoba. To read updates about this campaign and see relevant action alerts, please visit our news and take action sections.
The landscape of the seal river watershed erupts into a symphony of colour as river meets tundra, stone and sky on a crisp autumn day. Photo by Joshua Pearlman
The Qaminuriak Caribou Herd rules a landscape that for now is free from the marks of industrial resource extraction. Photos by Joshua Pearlman
Winding across 260km of unspoiled wilderness, the Seal River is Manitoba’s last free flowing major river. Photo by Jeremy Davies, Oceans North Canada, Pew Environment Group
Along the Seal River. Photo by Josh Pearlman