Monodon monoceros 

Scope: Europe
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Monodontidae

Scientific Name: Monodon monoceros Linnaeus, 1758
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Narwhal
French Narval
Spanish Narval

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Not Applicable (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2007
Date Assessed: 2007-01-26
Assessor(s): Species account by IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group; regional assessment by European Mammal Assessment team
Reviewer(s): Philip Hammond
This species is assessed as Not Applicable as it is of marginal occurrence in the European Mammal Assessment region.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Narwhals primarily inhabit the Atlantic sector of the Arctic and are rare in the Pacific sector. The principal distribution is from the central Canadian Arctic (Peel Sound – Prince Regent Inlet and northern Hudson Bay), eastward to Greenland and into the eastern Russian Arctic (around 180°E). They are rarely observed in the far eastern Russian Arctic, Alaska, or the western Canadian Arctic. In summer, narwhals spend approximately two months in high Arctic ice-free shallow bays and fjords and overwinter in offshore, deep, ice-covered habitats along the continental slope (Heide-Jørgensen and Dietz 1995). These disjunct seasonal distributions are connected by extensive annual migrations (over 1,000 km) which last approximately two months (Koski and Davis 1994, Dietz et al. 2001, Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2002, Innes et al. 2002, Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2003).
Countries occurrence:
Russian Federation; Svalbard and Jan Mayen
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Arctic Sea; Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – northwest
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The global population is probably in excess of 80,000 animals. The narwhals that summer in the Canadian High Arctic constitute the largest fraction, probably in excess of 70,000 animals (Innes et al. 2002, NAMMCO/JCNB 2005).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:In all areas of their occurrence, narwhals prefer deep or offshore waters (Hay and Mansfield 1989). Narwhals from Canada and West Greenland have high site fidelity to the winter pack ice of Davis Strait and Baffin Bay in regions along the continental slope with high gradients in bottom temperatures, predictable open water (< 5%), and relatively high densities of Greenland halibut (Laidre et al. 2004).

Fish, squid, and shrimp make up most of the narwhal diet (Hay and Mansfield 1989, Heide-Jørgensen 2002), especially Arctic fish species, such as Greenland halibut, Arctic cod, and polar cod (the latter of which are often associated with undersides of ice) (Laidre and Heide-Jørgensen 2005). Narwhals feed at times in deep water and possibly at or near the bottom. Dives of up to nearly 1,500 m and 25 minutes are documented (Laidre et al. 2003), and there are some seasonal differences in the depth and intensity of diving (Laidre et al. 2002, Laidre et al. 2003).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Narwhal populations may be limited or threatened by hunting, climate change, and industrial activities such as commercial fishing and oil exploration. Narwhals were never the targets of large-scale commercial hunting except for a brief period of perhaps several decades of the early 20th century in the eastern Canadian Arctic (Mitchell and Reeves 1981). They were hunted opportunistically by commercial whalers, explorers and adventurers in many areas. Narwhals have been hunted by the Inuit for human food, dog food and tusk ivory (Born et al. 1994). The mattak (skin and adhering blubber) is highly prized as food and provides a strong incentive for the hunt (Reeves 1993, Heide-Jørgensen 1994).

The effects of climate change on narwhals are uncertain. Narwhals are well adapted to a life in the pack ice as indicated by the fact that there is very little open water in their winter habitat (Laidre and Heide-Jørgensen 2005). Narwhals spend much of their time in heavy ice and are vulnerable to events called ice entrapments where hundreds of whales become trapped in a small opening in the sea ice and die. This occurs when sudden changes in weather conditions (such as shifts in wind or quick drops in temperature) freeze shut leads and cracks they were using. When live entrapped whales are discovered by Inuit hunters, they normally take advantage of the event by killing the animals. A recent assessment of the sensitivity of all Arctic marine mammals to climate change ranked the narwhal as one of the three most sensitive species, primarily due to its narrow geographic distribution, specialized feeding and habitat choice, and high site fidelity (Laidre et al. in press).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The narwhal is actively hunted only in Canada and Greenland. In Canada, the quota system that had been in place since the 1970s was replaced by a community-based management system implemented in the late 1990s and early 2000s (COSEWIC 2004). The hunt is managed by local hunter and trapper organizations with harvest limits established in some communities. Compliance has been questionable (COSEWIC 2004). Under this system, removals from some summering aggregations are probably sustainable, however there is concern that removals from other summering aggregations may not be (NAMMCO/JCNB 2005). In Greenland, a quota system was introduced in 2004 by the Greenland Ministry of Fisheries and Wildlife. The quota was set at 300 narwhals (of which 294 were taken), divided among municipalities of West Greenland. Compliance has reportedly been good (NAMMCO/JCNB 2005). Narwhals are legally protected in Russia and Norway. The species is listed in Appendix II of CMS.

Citation: Species account by IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group; regional assessment by European Mammal Assessment team. 2007. Monodon monoceros. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T13704A4353653. . Downloaded on 21 November 2017.
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