Narwhals spend their entire lifetime in the Arctic Ocean. The only other two whale species that live their whole life in the arctic are the beluga whale and the Bowhead whale (Laidre 2004). Like many other whales, narwhals live in different areas depending on the season. In summer, groups of narwhals can be found in the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay in Canada, around Greenland, and around Arctic islands to the East such as Svalbard and several Russian islands (Heide-Jorgensen et al. 2003). In winter, the narwhal range encompasses Baffin Bay and Hudson Strait on the west side of Greenland and the Eastern shore of Greenland extending to Svalbard island (Heide-Jorgensen et al. 2003). Groups of narwhals will spend the winter in one general area, and only change location in order to keep in contact with cracks in the sea ice, from which they can breathe (Heide-Jorgensen et al. 2003).  Narwhals are very consistent in the areas where they spend summer and winter. Groups of narwhals will return to the same locations year after year, and rarely deviate (Palsboll et al. 1997).  Narwhals also have distinct migration routes between their winter and summer areas that are used every year (Palsboll et al. 1997).

        Map of narwhal range
        Figure credit: WWF

  The lack of flexibility or deviation in the winter and summer areas, as well as the strictness and consistency of the migration routes that narwhals use is a concern for researchers as time progresses (Laidre 2005; Williams et al. 2011). Researchers and scientists are unsure if and how narwhals will adapt to the changing climate conditions that are predicted for the future. If the animals that narwhals depend on for food change location, or the water conditions become detrimental, the narwhals could be at risk because they are so consistent and may not be able to adapt (Laidre 2004).

           The depths that narwhals are found in the ocean also change throughout the year. In summer, narwhals maintain a relatively shallow depth of and do not spend much time or effort foraging for food (Heide-Jorgensen et al. 2003; Laidre 2004). While the narwhals are migrating during fall and spring, they do not vary their depth much, and use most of their time and energy swimming to the seasonal areas (Heide-Jorgensen et al. 2003). At the winter grounds, narwhals will dive deep and often, hunting for fish and squid (Laidre 2004).

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Created November 2013.