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Tracking narwhals – Winter 2012

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February 2012
These 4 narwhals are not moving much now. We are approaching March, which in most parts of the Arctic is the month of maximum sea-ice cover. These narwhal are in the area thought to be most regularly used in winter by this species, between SE Baffin Island and Greenland. This distribution is influenced by availability of Greenland Halibut in particular, but probably some other prey species such as squid, which tend to concentrate in areas where nutrients allow benthic organisms to flourish, especially around the edges of the deep centre and adjacent troughs of Baffin Bay.

January 2012
Since December it looks like two of the 7 radios are no longer transmitting, or may simply have become detached from the narwhal’s dorsal ridge.  However, the five remaining whales (all females and all about 13 ft in length, so adults) are all wintering between Qikiqtarjuaq in SE Baffin Island and Disko Bay (W Greenland), in the central basin and deep trench of S Baffin Bay and N Davis Strait – waters up to 2-3,000 m deep!

Past research has found that some wintering narwhal in this area are diving to the seabed in these amazing depths and probably feeding mainly on Greenland Halibut.  Although the satellite sea-ice coverage map shows’ 9+ tenths’ or essentially complete ice cover, clearly there are enough leads/cracks between ice sheets and the narwhals are able to detect and rely on these for breathing.

Surface air temperatures and ice cover appear to be about normal now in this region, so we assume that these narwhals are pretty content doing what they have evolved so highly to do at this season – pack on energy and stay away from predatory killer whales!

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