Polar Biology

, Volume 32, Issue 12, pp 1705–1716 | Cite as

Encounter frequencies and grouping patterns of narwhals in Koluktoo Bay, Baffin Island

  • Marianne Marcoux
  • Marie Auger-Méthé
  • Murray M. Humphries
Original Paper


The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is a deep diving cetacean with a strictly Arctic distribution. The challenges associated with the remoteness of narwhals have resulted in a lack of knowledge of its social behaviour requiring direct, systematic observations. Bruce Head, a peninsula at the mouth of Koluktoo Bay (Nunavut), provides an exceptional site in Canada for nearshore observation of narwhals during the summer. In this study, we document the movement, timing and grouping patterns of narwhals observed from Bruce Head and how they relate to environmental factors such as the tide and the circadian cycle. Narwhals travelled in clusters of 1–25 individuals of mixed sex and age class. Narwhals entered the bay in bigger clusters than when they exited it. The clusters were part of herds that comprised up to 642 clusters. Narwhal movement patterns were not randomly distributed in time but did not consistently follow the tidal or circadian cycles across years. Bruce Head could host long-term behavioural studies of narwhals to unravel several unanswered aspects of narwhal biology.


Circular statistics Baffin Island Non-invasive methods 



We wish to thank the community of Mittimatalik for welcoming us to do research on their land, N. Inuarak, A. Kublu, L. Suqslak and K. Beardsley for assistance, as well as S. Ferguson and H. Whitehead for support. We are grateful to C. Agostinelli for assistance with the circular statistical analysis, as well as P.R. Richard and M. Castellini for helpful comments on the manuscript. This research would not be possible without the logistical support of Polar Sea Adventures. Funding for this study was provided by Arctinet, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society, Canadian Whale Institute, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Northern Research Chair Program, Northern Scientific Training Program, and World Wildlife Fund Canada. M.M. was supported by the NSERC, the Eben Hopson Fellowship and the Lorraine Allison Scholarship and M.A.-M. by a NSERC scholarship.


  1. Arnbom T, Papastavrou V, Weilgart LS, Whitehead H (1987) Sperm whales react to an attack by killer whales. J Mammal 68:450–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Au WWL, Wursig B (2004) Echolocation signals of dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) in Kaikoura, New Zealand. J Acoust Soc Am 115:2307–2313CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Auger-Méthé M (2008) Photo-identification of narwhals. MSc dissertation, Dalhousie UniversityGoogle Scholar
  4. Baird RW (2000) The killer whale: foraging specializations and group hunting. In: Mann J, Connor RC, Tyack P, Whitehead H (eds) Cetacean societies—field studies of dolphins and whales. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 127–153Google Scholar
  5. Baird RW, Webster DL, Schorr GS, McSweeney DJ, Barlow J (2008) Diel variation in beaked whale diving behaviour. Mar Mamm Sci 24:630–642CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baker CS, Herman LM (1981) Migration and local movement of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) through Hawaiian waters. Can J Zool 59:460–469CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Béland P, Faucher A, Corbeil P (1990) Observations on the birth of a beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) in the St-Lawrence estuary, Quebec, Canada. Can J Zool 68:1327–1329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bigg MA, Olesiuk PK, Ellis GM, Ford JKB, Balcomb KC (1990) Social organization and genealogy of resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Washington State. Rep Int Whal Comm (special issue) 12:383–406Google Scholar
  9. Campbell RP, Yurick DB, Snow NB (1988) Predation on narwhals, Monodon monoceros, by killer whales, Orcinus orca, in the eastern Canadian Arctic. Can Field-Nat 102:696–698Google Scholar
  10. Childerhouse SJ, Dawson SM, Slooten E (1995) Abundance and seasonal residence of sperm whales at Kaikoura, New-Zealand. Can J Zool 73:723–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clapham PJ, Baraff LS, Carlson CA, Christian MA, Mattila DK, Mayo CA, Murphy MA, Pittman S (1993) Seasonal occurrence and annual return of humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, in the southern Gulf of Maine. Can J Zool 71:440–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clark CW, Clapham PJ (2004) Acoustic monitoring on a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding ground shows continual singing into late spring. Proc Biol Sci 271:1051–1057CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Connor RC, Smolker RA (1985) Habituated dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Western Australia. J Mammal 66:398–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Connor RC, Smolker RA, Richards AF (1992) Two levels of alliance formation among male bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops sp.). Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 89:987–990CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Connor RC, Mann J, Tyack PL, Whitehead H (2000) Introduction: the social lives of whales and dolphins. In: Mann J, Connor RC, Tyack P, Whitehead H (eds) Cetacean societies—field studies of dolphins and whales. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 45–64Google Scholar
  16. Cosens SE, Dueck LP (1991) Group-size and activity patterns of belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) and narwhals (Monodon monoceros) during spring migration in Lancaster Sound. Can J Zool 69:1630–1635CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. COSEWIC (2004) COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the narwhal Monodon monoceros in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_narwhal_e.pdf. Accessed 20 May 2009
  18. Dietz R, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Richard PR, Acquarone M (2001) Summer and fall movements of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) from Northeastern Baffin Island toward Northern Davis Strait. Arctic 54:244–261Google Scholar
  19. Dietz R, Riget F, Hobson KA, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Møller P, Cleemann M, de Boer J, Glasius M (2004) Regional and inter annual patterns of heavy metals, organochlorines and stable isotopes in narwhals (Monodon monoceros) from West Greenland. Sci Total Environ 331:83–105CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Finley KJ, Gibb EJ (1982) Summer diet of the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) in Pond Inlet, northern Baffin Island. Can J Zool 60:3353–3363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fisher NI (1993) Statistical analysis of circular data. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  22. Folk GE, Thrift DL, Zimmerman MB, Reimann PC (2006) Mammalian activity-rest rhythms in Arctic continuous daylight. Biol Rhythm Res 37:455–469CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ford JKB, Fisher HD (1978) Underwater acoustic signals of narwhal (Monodon monoceros). Can J Zool 56:552–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ford JKB, Reeves RR (2008) Fight or flight: antipredator strategies of baleen whales. Mamm Rev 38:50–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ford JKB, Ellis GM, Barrett-Lennard LG, Morton AB, Palm RS, Balcomb KC (1998) Dietary specialization in two sympatric populations of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in coastal British Columbia and adjacent waters. Can J Zool 76:1456–1471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. George J (2006, April 7) NWMB picky about support for scientists. Nunatsiaq News. http://www.nunatsiaq.com/archives/60407/news/nunavut/60407_02.html. Accessed 20 May 2009
  27. Goldbogen JA, Calambokidis J, Croll DA, Harvey JT, Newton KM, Oleson EM, Schorr G, Shadwick RE (2008) Foraging behavior of humpback whales: kinematic and respiratory patterns suggest a high cost for a lunge. J Exp Bio 211:3712–3719CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Graham J, Fortier E (2005) From opportunity to action: a progress report on Canada’s renewal of northern research. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/_doc/Northern-Nordique/NorthRes_06-05_e.pdf. Accessed on May 26 2009.
  29. Greendale RG, Brousseau-Greendale C (1976) Observations of marine mammals at Cape Hay, Bylot Island during summer of 1976. Canada Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Marine Service Technical report no. 680Google Scholar
  30. Hay K (1984) The life history of the Narwhal (Monodon monoceros L.) in the Eastern Canadian Arctic, PhD dissertation, McGill UniversityGoogle Scholar
  31. Hay KA, Mansfield AW (1989) Narwhal, Monodon monoceros Linnaeus, 1758. In: Ridgway SH, Richardson RJ (eds) Handbook of marine mammals, vol. 4. River dolphins and the larger toothed whales. Academic Press, London, pp 145–176Google Scholar
  32. Heide-Jørgensen MP (2004) Aerial digital photographic surveys of narwhals, Monodon monoceros, in northwest Greenland. Mar Mamm Sci 20:246–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Heide-Jørgensen MP, Dietz R, Laidre KL, Richard P, Orr J, Schmidt HC (2003) The migratory behaviour of narwhals (Monodon monoceros). Can J Zool 81:1298–1305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hooker SK, Biuw M, McConnell BJ, Miller PJO, Sparling CE (2007) Bio-logging science: logging and relaying physical and biological data using animal-attached tags. Deep-Sea Res II 54:177–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Irvine AB, Wells RS (1972) Results of attemps to tag Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiup truncatus). Cetology 13:1–5Google Scholar
  36. Jammalamadaka SR, SenGupta A (2001) Topics in circular statistics. World Scientific Press, SingaporeGoogle Scholar
  37. Jefferson TA, Karczmarski L, Laidre K, O’Corry-Crowe G, Reeves RR, Rojas-Bracho L, Secchi ER, Slooten E, Smith BD, Wang JY, Zhou K (2008) Monodon monoceros. 2008 IUCN red list of threatened species. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/13704. Accessed 14 Jan 2009
  38. Johnson M, Madsen PT, Zimmer WMX, de Soto NA, Tyack PL (2004) Beaked whales echolocate on prey. Proc R Soc Lond B 271:S383–S386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Karczmarski L, Wursig B, Gailey G, Larson KW, Vanderlip C (2005) Spinner dolphins in a remote Hawaiian atoll: social grouping and population structure. Behav Ecol 16:675–685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kooyman GL (2004) Genesis and evolution of bio-logging devices: 1963–2002. Mem Natl Inst Polar Res (Spec Issue) 58:15–22Google Scholar
  41. Korslund L (2006) Activity of root voles (Microtus oeconomus) under snow: social encounters synchronize individual activity rhythms. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 61:255–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Laidre KL, Heide-Jørgensen MP (2005a) Arctic sea ice trends and narwhal vulnerability. Biol Conserv 121:509–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Laidre KL, Heide-Jørgensen MP (2005b) Winter feeding intensity of narwhals (Monodon monoceros). Mar Mamm Sci 21:45–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Laidre KL, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Dietz R (2002) Diving behaviour of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) at two coastal localities in the Canadian High Arctic. Can J Zool 80:624–635CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Laidre KL, Heide-Jorgensen MP, Dietz R, Hobbs RC, Jorgensen OA (2003) Deep-diving by narwhals Monodon monoceros: differences in foraging behavior between wintering areas? Mar Ecol Prog Series 261:269–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Laidre KL, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Logdson ML, Hobbs RC, Heagerty P, Dietz R, Jørgensen OA, Treble MA (2004) Seasonal narwhal habitat associations in the high Arctic. Mar Biol 145:821–831Google Scholar
  47. Laidre KL, Stirling I, Lowry LF, Wiig Ø, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Fergusson SH (2008) Quantifying the sensitivity of arctic marine mammals to climate-induced habitat change. Ecol Appl 18:S97–S125CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Lerczak JA, Hobbs RC (1998) Calculating sighting distances from angular readings during shipboard, aerial, and shore-based marine mammal surveys. Mar Mamm Sci 14:590–599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lund U, Agostinelli C (2007) Circular: circular statistics. R package version 0.3-8. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, AustriaGoogle Scholar
  50. Mann J (2000) Unraveling the dynamics of social life: long-term studies and observational methods. In: Mann J, Connor RC, Tyack P, Whitehead H (eds) Cetacean Societies—field studies of dolphins and whales. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 45–64Google Scholar
  51. Mann J, Smuts B (1999) Behavioral development in wild bottlenose dolphin newborns (Tursiops sp.). Behaviour 136:529–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mansfield AW, Smith TG, Beck B (1975) The narwhal, Monodon monoceros, in eastern Canadian waters. J Fish Res Board Can 32:1041–1046Google Scholar
  53. Mary-Roussilière G (1984–1985) Factors affecting human occupation of the land in the Pond Inlet region from prehistoric to contemporary times. Eskimo 28:8–24Google Scholar
  54. Mate BR, Nieukirk SL, Kraus SD (1997) Satellite-monitored movements of the northern right whale. J Wildl Manag 61:1393–1405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Michaud R (2005) Sociality and ecology of the odontocetes. In: Ruckstuhl KE, Neuhaus P (eds) Sexual segregation in vertebrates: ecology of the two sexes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 303–326Google Scholar
  56. Newman MA (1971) Capturing narwhals for the Vancouver Public Aquarium, 1970. Polar Record 15:922–923CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ottensmeyer CA, Whitehead H (2003) Behavioural evidence for social units in long-finned pilot whales. Can J Zool 81:1327–1338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Palsbøll PJ, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Dietz R (1997) Population structure and seasonal movements of narwhals, Monodon monoceros, determined from mtDNA analysis. Heredity 78:284–292CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Payne R (1994) Among whales. Nat Hist 103:40–46Google Scholar
  60. R Development Core Team (2008) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN: 3-90005107-0, URL: http://www.R-project.org
  61. Reeves RR, Mitchell E (1981) The whale behind the tusk. Nat Hist 90:50–57Google Scholar
  62. Rice DW, Wolman AA, Withrow DE (1981) Gray whales on the winter grounds in Baja California. Rep Int Whal Commn 31:477–489Google Scholar
  63. Richard PR (1991) Abundance and distribution of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) in northern Hudson Bay. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 48:276–283Google Scholar
  64. Richard PR, Laake JL, Hobbs RC, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Asselin N, Cleator H (2009) Baffin Bay narwhal population distribution and numbers: aerial surveys in the Canadian High Arctic, 2002–2004. Arctic (in press)Google Scholar
  65. Roberge MM, Dunn JB (1990) Assessment of the Subsistence Harvest and Biology of Narwhal (Monodon monoceros L.) from Admiralty Inlet, Baffin Island, N.W.T. 1983 and 1986–89. Can Tech Rep Fish Aquat Sci 1747:1–32Google Scholar
  66. Rugh DJ, Hobbs RC, Lerczak JA, Breiwick JM (2005) Estimates of abundance of the eastern North Pacific stock of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) 1997–2002. J Cetacean Res Manag 7:1–12Google Scholar
  67. Schipper J, Chanson JS, Chiozza F, Cox NA, Hoffmann M, Katariya V, Lamoreux J, Rodrigues AS, Stuart SN, Temple HJ, Baillie J, Boitani L, Lacher TE, Mittermeier RA, Smith AT, Absolon D, Aguiar JM, Amori G, Bakkour N, Baldi R, Berridge RJ, Bielby J, Black PA, Blanc JJ, Brooks TM, Burton JA, Butynski TM, Catullo G, Chapman R, Cokeliss Z, Collen B, Conroy J, Cooke JG, da Fonseca GAB, Derocher AE, Dublin HT, Duckworth JW, Emmons L, Emslie RH, Festa-Bianchet M, Foster M, Foster S, Garshelis DL, Gates C, Gimenez-Dixon M, Gonzalez S, Gonzalez-Maya JF, Good TC, Hammerson G, Hammond PS, Happold D, Happold M, Hare J, Harris RB, Hawkins CE, Haywood M, Heaney LR, Hedges S, Helgen KM, Hilton-Taylor C, Hussain SA, Ishii N, Jefferson TA, Jenkins RKB, Johnston CH, Keith M, Kingdon J, Knox DH, Kovacs KM, Langhammer P, Leus K, Lewison R, Lichtenstein G, Lowry LF, Macavoy Z, Mace GM, Mallon DP, Masi M, McKnight MW, Medellin RA, Medici P, Mills G, Moehlman PD, Molur S, Mora A, Nowell K, Oates JF, Olech W, Oliver WRL, Oprea M, Patterson BD, Perrin WF, Polidoro BA, Pollock C, Powel A, Protas Y, Racey P, Ragle J, Ramani P, Rathbun G, Reeves RR, Reilly SB, Reynolds JE, Rondinini C, Rosell-Ambal RG, Rulli M, Rylands AB, Savini S, Schank CJ, Sechrest W, Self-Sullivan C, Shoemaker A, Sillero-Zubiri C, De Silva N, Smith DE, Srinivasulu C, Stephenson PJ, van Strien N, Talukdar BK, Taylor BL, Timmins R, Tirira DG, Tognelli MF, Tsytsulina K, Veiga LM, Vie JC, Williamson EA, Wyatt SA, Xie Y, Young BE (2008) The status of the world’s land and marine mammals: diversity, threat, and knowledge. Science 322:225–230CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Shapiro AD (2006) Preliminary evidence for signature vocalizations among free-ranging narwhals (Monodon monoceros). J Acoust Soc Am 120:1695–1705CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Sibly RM, Nott HMR, Fletcher DJ (1990) Splitting behaviour into bouts. Anim Behav 39:63–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Silverman HB (1979) Social organization and behaviour of the narwhal, Monodon monoceros L. in Lancaster Sound, Pond Inlet, and Tremblay Sound, N.W.T. MSc dissertation, McGill UniversityGoogle Scholar
  71. Simard Y, Lavoie D (1999) The rich krill aggregation of the Saguenay—St Lawrence Marine Park: hydroacoustic and geostatistical biomass estimates, structure, variability, and significance for whales. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 56:1182–1197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Stafford KM, Fox CG, Clark DS (1998) Long-range acoustic detection and localization of blue whale calls in the northeast Pacific Ocean. J Acoust Soc Am 104:3616–3625CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Steltner H, Stelner S, Sergeant DE (1984) Killer whales, Orcinus orca, prey on narwhals, Monodon monoceros: an eyewitness account. Can Field Nat 98:458–462Google Scholar
  74. Thiemann GW, Iverson SJ, Stirling I (2008) Variation in blubber fatty acid composition among marine mammals in the Canadian Arctic. Mar Mamm Sci 24:91–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. van Oort BEH, Tyler NJC, Gerkema MP, Folkow L, Blix AS, Stokkan KA (2005) Circadian organization in reindeer. Nature 438:1095–1096CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  76. Vibe C (1950) The marine mammals and the marine fauna in the Thule District (Northwest Greenland) with observations on ice conditions in 1939–41. Medd Grønl 150:1–115Google Scholar
  77. Visser IN, Fertl D, Pusser LT (2004) Melanistic southern right-whale dolphins (Lissodelphis peronii) off Kaikoura, New Zealand, with records of other anomalously all-black cetaceans. NZ J Mar Freshw Res 38:833–836CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wagemann R, Kozlowska H (2005) Mercury distribution in the skin of beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) and narwhal (Monodon monoceros) from the Canadian Arctic and mercury burdens and excretion by moulting. Sci Total Environ 351–352:333–343PubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Watkins WA, Daher MA, DiMarzio NA, Samuels A, Wartzok D, Fristrup KM, Howey PW, Maiefski RR (2002) Sperm whale dives tracked by radio tag telemetry. Mar Mamm Sci 18:55–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Watson GS (1961) Goodness-of-fit on a circle. Biometrika 48:109–114Google Scholar
  81. Watson GS (1962) Goodness-of-fit on a circle. II. Biometrika 49:57–63Google Scholar
  82. Whitehead H (1998) Cultural selection and genetic diversity in matrilineal whales. Science 282:1708–1711CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Whitehead H, Waters S (1990) Social organization and population structure of sperm whales off the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador (1985 and 1987). Rep Int Whal Comm (Spec Issue) 12:249–257Google Scholar
  84. Whitehead H, Weilgart L (2000) The sperm whale: social females and roving males. In: Mann J, Connor RC, Tyack P, Whitehead H (eds) Cetacean societies—field studies of dolphins and whales. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 154–196Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marianne Marcoux
    • 1
  • Marie Auger-Méthé
    • 2
  • Murray M. Humphries
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural Resource Sciences, MacDonald CampusMcGill UniversitySte-Anne-de-BellevueCanada
  2. 2.Department of Biological Sciences, CW315 Biological Sciences BldgUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations