Cape Hay is located at the entrance of Lancaster Sound near the northwestern tip of Bylot Island. Bylot Island, which is situated immediately northeast of Baffin Island, is comprised mostly of Precambrian metamorphic rock. As part of the Arctic Cordillera, the island is quite mountainous with numerous glaciers and elevations up to 1,900 m above sea level. The site that contains the colonial seabirds is comprised of vertical cliffs of Precambrian dolomite that rise 60 to 460 m above sea level.
Offshore, the Lancaster Sound is a major migration route for marine mammals such as beluga, narwhals, ringed seals and harp seals. Polar bears are also numerous, and the north shore of Bylot Island is reported to be a maternity denning area and summer retreat.
During the 1970s surveys indicated that approximately 140,000 pairs of Thick-billed Murres were present at Cape Hay during the breeding season. No recent surveys have been completed. If these figures are still accurate, this represents approximately 1.3% of the global, 2.2% of the North Atlantic and about 9.5% of the eastern Canada Thick-billed Murre population. Historically, this site may have supported even larger numbers of murres. In 1957, approximately 400,000 pairs were estimated at this site. Large numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes also nest at Cape Hay (provisional estimates of 20,000 pairs). This may represent from 7.6% to as much as 10% of the western Atlantic population of Black-legged Kittiwakes. This species may have also declined in numbers at Cape Hay. In 1957, 50,000 pairs were estimated at this site.
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, and Prince Regent Inlet were under serious consideration as marine shipping routes and areas of hydrocarbon exploration and development. These proposals, however, are no longer active.
Approximately four cruise ships stop at the seabird colony each year. Viewing of the birds takes place from zodiacs; cruise ship visitors are not permitted on shore except in cases of emergency.
Cape Hay is within the Bylot Island Bird Sanctuary and will soon become a part of the proposed North Baffin National Park. It has also been identified as a significant site under the International Biological Programme (IBP).
The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife
International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada.