The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Research in NAMMCO Member Countries


Research on narwhal and other marine mammals is carried out through the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk, Greenland. Research carried out in both east and west Greenland has included the collection and analysis of samples for genetic studies, the application of satellite tags, and abundance surveys. The latter have provided important information on the size of the population of whales wintering off West Greenland, and the trends in abundance over time. Genetic studies are used to try to determine stock structure and relationships, while satellite tagging provides information on stock structure through narwhal movements and habitat use. Another use of satellite tags is to record ocean temperatures and depths, and tags on narwhals have been used for this (see Laidre et al. 2010). Satellite-tagging studies of narwhals in both Canada and Greenland were initiated in 1993, and have been ongoing since then (Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2013b).

Work has also been done in Greenland on ageing methods for narwhals. A new species-specific racemization rate for narwhals has been estimated by regressing aspartic acid D/L ratios in eye lens nuclei against growth layer groups (GLG) in tusks (NAMMCO 2013, Garde et al. 2007). This information is then used to better estimate the age of a narwhal, and so to construct age distribution and estimate life history parameters for stocks.

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A satellite tag on a narwhal

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A close up of the satellite tag

Photos: M.P. Heide-Jørgensen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources


In Norway, narwhal research is carried out by the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, Norway. In one study, several narwhals off Svalbard were fitted with satellite tags in order to record their diving depths and duration of those dives (Lydersen et al. 2007). This research is not ongoing at the present time. Narwhal are fully protected in Norway, and no hunting of them is allowed.