Narwhals at Glacial Fronts

Arctic and sub-arctic glacial fjords are characterized by high rates of productivity and a rich marine ecosystem that includes seabirds, seals, polar bears and whales, not to mention fisheries, which are important both for regional economies and the subsistence of local human populations. The high rates of productivity in Greenland’s glacial fjords and their downstream regions have been attributed to glacial meltwater. The importance of Greenlandic glacial fjords as a habitat has been demonstrated for several marine top predators. 

Narwhals are an important representative species for understanding the impacts of physical changes in the Arctic. Given their specialization, limited geographic range and narrow habitat niche, they are identified as one of the most sensitive arctic marine mammals. Melville Bay is a summering ground for one of Greenland’s sub-populations of narwhals, and whales are frequently seen at glacial fronts until November. 

 

A mooring with an acoustic recorder is deployed to listen for narwhals in Melville Bay

 

It is unknown why narwhals have an affinity for glacial fronts in West Greenland, but the physical properties of glacial fjords (upwelling, warm water entrainment) may offer feeding opportunities by aggregating prey or, alternatively, the freshwater submarine melt at the underwater glacier face may offer a seasonal summertime freshwater habitat not found elsewhere in West Greenland. 

We use bottom-moored sound recorders and loggers for the physical characteristics of the water masses in front of the glaciers to quantify the glacial fjord characteristics and the relatively warm Atlantic water, and determine how this correlates with the presence and relative densities of narwhals in Melville Bay.

This project is a collaboration with the University of Washington and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and is linked to the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) project.

 

Our program coordinator, Carl, is servicing a camera overlooking Melville Bay

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The sounds from a narwhal investigating the mooring

Sounds from a narwhal

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