Some like it cold: Temperature-dependent habitat selection by narwhals

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningfagfællebedømt


The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is a high-Arctic species inhabiting areas that are experiencing increases in sea temperatures, which together with reduction in sea ice are expected to modify the niches of several Arctic marine apex predators. The Scoresby Sound fjord complex in East Greenland is the summer residence for an isolated population of narwhals. The movements of 12 whales instrumented with Fastloc-GPS transmitters were studied during summer in Scoresby Sound and at their offshore winter ground in 2017–2019. An additional four narwhals provided detailed hydrographic profiles on both summer and winter grounds. Data on diving of the whales were obtained from 20 satellite-linked time-depth recorders and 16 Acousonde™ recorders that also provided information on the temperature and depth of buzzes. In summer, the foraging whales targeted depths between 300 and 850 m where the preferred areas visited by the whales had temperatures ranging between 0.6 and 1.5°C (mean = 1.1°C, SD = 0.22). The highest probability of buzzing activity during summer was at a temperature of 0.7°C and at depths > 300 m. The whales targeted similar depths at their offshore winter ground where the temperature was slightly higher (range: 0.7–1.7°C, mean = 1.3°C, SD = 0.29). Both the probability of buzzing events and the spatial distribution of the whales in both seasons demonstrated a preferential selection of cold water. This was particularly pronounced in winter where cold coastal water was selected and warm Atlantic water farther offshore was avoided. It is unknown if the small temperature niche of whales while feeding is because prey is concentrated at these temperature gradients and is easier to capture at low temperatures, or because there are limitations in the thermoregulation of the whales. In any case, the small niche requirements together with their strong site fidelity emphasize the sensitivity of narwhals to changes in the thermal characteristics of their habitats.

TidsskriftEcology and Evolution
Udgave nummer15
Sider (fra-til)8073-8090
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - 2020

ID: 249164254