Abundance of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) on the hunting grounds in Greenland

M. P. Heide-Jorgensen, K. L. Laidre, M. L. Burt, D. L. Borchers, T. A. Marques, R. G. Hansen, M. Rasmussen, S. Fossette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Narwhals (Monodon monoceros L.) occur in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic where for centuries they have been subject to subsistence hunting by Inuit in Greenland and Canada. Scientific advice on the sustainable levels of removals from narwhal populations provides the basis for quotas implemented in both Greenland and Canada. The scientific advice relies heavily on extensive aerial surveys that are the only feasible way to acquire data on narwhal densities and abundance throughout their range. In some areas lack of information on abundance, in combination with high exploitation levels, has caused conservation concerns leading to restrictions on the international trade in narwhal tusks. Narwhals also are regarded as highly sensitive to habitat disturbance caused by global warming. This study analyzed data from aerial sighting surveys covering four major narwhal hunting grounds in Greenland. The surveys were conducted as double observer experiments with 2 independent observation platforms, 1 at the front and 1 at the rear of the survey plane. The sighting data were analyzed using mark recapture distance sampling techniques that allow for correction for whales that were missed by the observers. The surveys also were corrected for animals that were submerged during the passage of the survey plane, using diving and submergence data from satellite-linked time depth recorders deployed on 2 free-ranging narwhals. The abundance of narwhals on the wintering ground in West Greenland in 2006 was 7,819 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 4,358-14,029). The abundances of narwhals in Inglefield Bredning and Melville Bay, northwest Greenland in 2007 were 8,368 (95% CI: 5,209-13,442) and 6,024 (95% CI: 1,403-25,860), respectively. The abundance of narwhals in East Greenland in 2008 was 6,444 (95% CI: 2,505-16,575). These surveys provide the first estimates of narwhal abundance from important hunting areas in East and West Greenland and provide larger and more complete estimates from previously surveyed hunting grounds in Inglefield Bredning. The estimates can be used for setting catch limits for the narwhal harvest in West and East Greenland and as a baseline for examining the effects of climate change on narwhal abundance. DOT: 10.1644/09-MAMM-A-198.1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1135-1151
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


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