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Tracking narwhals – July 2012

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Visit the WWF narwhal tracker

The 7 main radios fitted in N Baffin Island back in August have added significant new data and a better sample size for this globally significant summering concentration of narwhal.

Basically the tagged animals remained in the fjords and channels around N Baffin until sea-ice started to form in October. Then they generally headed south and east along the Canadian shelf of Baffin Bay, to wintering areas off Cape Dyer, eastern Baffin Island.

Although the satellite images showed seemingly solid, 100% ice cover in these wintering areas, the currents in Baffin Bay kept the ice moving, and the narrow leads/cracks between sheets of annual sea-ice were clearly enough to provide narwhal with adequate breathing opportunity – between those dives down to sometimes 5000 ft, and the Greenland Halibut stocks down on the sea floor.

These areas, and some of the movement corridors that seem to be used by the narwhal between summering and wintering areas, are currently under various plans and applications for exploratory oil and gas drilling and seismic exploration, in the seemingly relentless search for more oil and gas resources. Having this information on timing of narwhal use of key areas is crucial for effective marine spatial planning in this region – taking care of what key wildlife species need, and not just racing to extract all available resources at whatever cost to the environment.

Over the fall, winter and spring, sea ice conditions were not significantly different in Baffin Bay compared to the average since about 1980. In fact the winter was relatively cold up in Baffin Island. But the overall trend remains one of increasing retreat of sea-ice, as the mean temperatures of both air and sea surface waters steadily increase.

WWF will again partner with local Inuit, and academic and government scientists this fall, and complete a final year of satellite tagging work on narwhal in this Tremblay Sound region. We plan to bring more information and some local stories to this wetracker page, to help convey the facts and figures for this mystical and still rather poorly understood arctic whale.

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