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Tracking narwhals – October 2012

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October 22

With so much latent heat still in the water column, the Arctic sea ice is slow in reforming again this autumn. Our 4 narwhal with radio transmitters still working are moving fairly slowly SE along the North Baffin coastlines. Only the inner reaches of Eclipse and Tremblay Sounds, Milne Inlet etc have started freezing, and there are large expanses of open water well to the north still. I wouldn’t expect our 4 whales to really start moving fast to the wintering areas until the temperatures drop substantially. Pond Inlet air temperatures this week are still in the zero to -10C range, quite warm still, really!

October 10

Now that people are mainly back at their homes, labs and offices, we can start sharing the summary results and weekly updates from the August narwhal tagging work WWF was proud to be able to support in the north Baffin region!

This August was a very different one from 2011 – local say that this was “the summer that never came”! The narwhal were there certainly, in Tremblay Sound and areas near Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay, but they certainly behaved very differently, as the windy, rainy, and gray weather dominated every single day it seemed.

In the 2 weeks we were there we caught 5 narwhal, and fitted them with Argos satellite radios – one seems to have malfunctioned or fallen off within the first few weeks, so we display the weekly updates now on the adjacent map, for the 4 animals (2 are males, and 2 are females). This year we’re able to give a small profile of the individual animal – sex, length, and even a nice mugshot/the radio when fitted.

Although there were far fewer bird species than in the same period last august around the Tremblay Sound camp, the daily rain/deluge this year was great news for plant life – many species that hadn’t flowered in 2011 august camp were carpeting the low tundra ‘garden’ beside our camp this august. We were also treated to almost daily visits by up to 4 polar bears and 5 arctic foxes, and a few narwhal carcasses along the coast provided much welcomed food for these bears and probably other scavenging foxes.

Right now, we know that narwhal 01 (tag #115959, a 4.4m male) moved quickly west into Admiralty Inlet, after tagging in mid-August, and remained there for September. It seems now to be slowly edging eastwards, catching up with the other 3 animals, heading east before the winter sea-ice starts forming fast from the shoreline outwards. In early October now, the region now has routine sub-zero temperatures, with overnight lows at -10C or lower, so sea ice will start to reappear soon., and we can expect the narwhal to keep heading steadily along their continental shelf migration corridors towards the wintering areas, where they will feed at much greater depths for much of the winter.

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