The Significance of the North Water Polynya to Arctic Top Predators

Mads Peter Heide-Jorgensen*, M Louise Burt, Rikke Guldborg Hansen, Nynne Hjort Nielsen, Marianne Rasmussen, Sabrina Fossette, Harry Stern

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The North Water polynya (similar to 76A degrees N to 79A degrees N and 70A degrees W to 80A degrees W) is known to be an important habitat for several species of marine mammals and sea birds. For millennia, it has provided the basis for subsistence hunting and human presence in the northernmost part of Baffin Bay. The abundance of air-breathing top predators also represents a potential source of nutrient cycling that maintains primary production. In this study, aerial surveys conducted in 2009 and 2010 were used for the first time to map the distribution and estimate the abundance of top predators during spring in the North Water. Belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) were not detected north of 77A degrees 20'N but were found along the coast of West Greenland and offshore in the middle of the North Water with an abundance estimated at 2245 (95 % CI 1811-2783). Narwhals (Monodon monoceros) were widely distributed on the eastern side of the North Water with an estimate of abundance of 7726 (3761-15 870). Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) were found across the North Water over both shallow and deep (> 500 m) water with an estimated abundance of 1499 (1077-2087). Bearded (Erignathus barbatus) and ringed seals (Phoca hispida) used the large floes of ice in the southeastern part of the North Water for hauling out. Most polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were detected in the southern part of the polynya. The abundances of bearded and ringed seals were 6016 (3322-10 893) and 9529 (5460-16 632), respectively, and that of polar bears was 60 (12-292). Three sea bird species were distributed along the Greenland coast (eiders, Somateria spp.), in leads and cracks close to the Greenland coast (little auks, Alle alle) or widely in open water (thick-billed guillemots, Uria lomvia).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)596-610
Number of pages15
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • North Water
  • Polynya
  • Sea ice conditions
  • Top predators
  • Marine mammals
  • Sea birds
  • ICE
  • SIZE


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