Animal Facts: Arctic char

  • Published Aug 12, 2021
  • Updated Aug 12, 2022
  • 271 words
  • 2 minutes
As a member of the trout and salmon family, the Arctic char is a cold water fish native to alpine lakes and arctic and subarctic coastal waters. (Photo: Mathieu Dumond - Umingmak Productions Inc./Can Geo Photo Club)
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The Arctic char is the most northernly occurring of any freshwater fish and mainly inhabits the Arctic and adjacent oceans. 

Image: Chris Brackley
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Fast Facts

Common name: Arctic char

Scientific name: Salvelinus alpinus

Inuktitut name: ᐃᖃᓗᒃ (iqaluk or tariurmiutaq)

Type: Fish

Diet: Carnivore

Group name: School

Average weight: 200 grams to 4.5 kilograms

Average length: 40 centimetres to 60 centimetres  

COSEWIC Status: No status

Did you know?

Despite being a northernmost freshwater fish, some arctic char populations are anadromous, meaning they move from saltwater to freshwater to spawn.

Physical characteristics and behaviour

Although they are similar in shape to salmon or trout, arctic char vary in colour depending on the time of year, location and stage of development. Usually, their backs are dark blue, green or brown, with silver sides and a white underbelly; however, they can also sometimes be covered with purple, pink or reddish spots. When spawning or releasing their eggs, the char can have a bright red or orange colour. This is one colourful fish!

These fish have been an important food source to Inuit for centuries. Arctic char is eaten raw, frozen (called quak), dried (called pipsi), smoked, aged or cooked. In some instances, skins from char have been made into waterproof coats and their bones have been made into sewing needles along with pouches that carried the sewing equipment.


Arctic char are carnivores. They mostly feed on shrimp, insect larvae, snails, clams and some small fish. 

Habitat and distribution

Arctic char can be found across the Arctic Ocean, including the Arctic Archipelago, and in the freshwater lakes and rivers of the Arctic islands and Canada’s northern mainland.


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