The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Narwhals inhabit the waters of two NAMMCO member states: Norway and Greenland.


Norway does not presently permit the harvest of narwhals in its territory.


Some West Greenland narwhals may travel to Canadian waters, therefore management is a shared responsibility between Greenland and Canada. Greenland and Canada have established a bilateral management body, the Canada/Greenland Joint Commission on the Conservation and Management of Narwhal and Beluga (JCNB). The JCNB has a Scientific Working Group which meets jointly with the NAMMCO Scientific Committee Working Group on the Population Status of Narwhal and Beluga in the North Atlantic. This scientific body provides advice at the request of the JCNB and NAMMCO, pertaining to such issues as stock delineation, total allowable catches and threats to beluga and narwhal populations. The JCNB Commission meets periodically to receive this advice and provide management advice to Canada and Greenland.

Science-based management gives results

There was concern in the past that West Greenland narwhals were declining in numbers due to overharvesting. This concern was based on an apparent decline in summer numbers at Inglefield Bredning in between 1986 and 2002, and a decline in the numbers seen in winter index surveys conducted in the 1980’s and 1990’s in Disko Bay (NAMMCO 2006, NAMMCO 2010). However, more recent surveys (Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2010) do not suggest that numbers are in decline, and that other factors such as methodological differences between surveys and annual fluctuations in numbers due to ice conditions may have contributed to the previous apparent decline. In 2012, both the JCNB and the NAMMCO Scientific Committees used recent abundance estimates and other information to conclude that quotas and takes from the summer aggregations at Inglefield Bredning and Melville Bay are sustainable (NAMMCO 2013). It was recommended that, in order to have a 70% probability of population increase, narwhal catches should total no higher than 310 per year in West Greenland. The Greenland Home Rule Government accepted this advice and has limited harvests in West Greenland to the recommended levels by introducing seasonal quotas in all areas. The fall and winter harvests at Uummannaq and Disko Bay are likely supplied by both Greenlandic and Canadian summer aggregations, and present quotas and takes are considered sustainable (NAMMCO 2013).

Quotas for narwhals were introduced in 2004 for West Greenland, and in 2008 for East Greenland (Nielsen and Meilby 2013). A license for the species and period is required in order to hunt narwhal, in addition to a hunting permit. The current quotas are 310 for West Greenland and 85 for East Greenland (NAMMCO 2013). There is no narwhal hunting permitted in the national park in northeastern Greenland. The Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture is responsible for regulating narwhal whaling in Greenland. Regulations govern the seasons in which narwhals can be hunted and the weapons and equipment that may be used. Successful whale hunts must be reported to municipal authorities to facilitate monitoring of the harvest. Compliance with quotas and other regulations is monitored by wildlife officers at the local level.


Mads Peter Heide Jorgensen group narwhals Narwhal MPHJ l

Photo: M.P. Heide-Jørgensen 

Status according to other organisations

Narwhals are currently listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (as are all species of cetaceans not listed on Appendix I). CITES is a legally-binding multilateral environmental agreement that aims to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of species in the wild. Both Denmark (Greenland) and Norway are signatories to the convention. A listing on Appendix II means that an export permit shall only be granted when the Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.

On the IUCN “Red list” narwhals are listed as Near Threatened in an assessment made in 2008 (Jefferson et al. 2012).