, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 596–610 | Cite as

The Significance of the North Water Polynya to Arctic Top Predators

  • Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen
  • Louise M. Burt
  • Rikke Guldborg Hansen
  • Nynne Hjort Nielsen
  • Marianne Rasmussen
  • Sabrina Fossette
  • Harry Stern


The North Water polynya (~76°N to 79°N and 70°W to 80°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 77°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).


North Water Polynya Sea ice conditions Top predators Marine mammals Sea birds 



This study was funded by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the National Environmental Protection Agency, Danish Ministry of Environment, under the program for cooperation on the environment in the Arctic (Dancea). Air Greenland operated the Twin Otter that was used for the survey. The Vetlessen Foundation provided funding for the Redhen Systems data recording equipment.

Supplementary material

13280_2012_357_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (381 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 377 kb)


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen
    • 1
  • Louise M. Burt
    • 2
  • Rikke Guldborg Hansen
    • 1
  • Nynne Hjort Nielsen
    • 1
  • Marianne Rasmussen
    • 3
  • Sabrina Fossette
    • 4
  • Harry Stern
    • 5
  1. 1.Greenland Institute of Natural ResourcesNuukGreenland
  2. 2.RUWPA, The ObservatoryUniversity of St AndrewsFifeUK
  3. 3.Húsavik Research CenterUniversity of IcelandHúsavikIceland
  4. 4.Department of Biosciences, College of ScienceSwansea UniversitySwanseaUK
  5. 5.Polar Science CenterUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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