New research coming out of the University of Washington has found where narwhals feel at home the most. It turns out these majestic tusked sea mammals love unique glacier fjords with thick ice fronts that have infrequent iceberg breaks.
These unique glaciers have freshwater runoff and still serene waters compared to the silt-filled discharge from very active glaciers. The findings could aid researchers in understanding more about these unique marine mammals and how climate change could affect them in the future.
“Arctic marine mammals are really good indicators of climate change because they are very specialized,” says Kristin Laidre, a marine biologist at the University of Washington. “They are finely attuned to specific environmental conditions, so they are good indicator species for how the physical changes many scientists are documenting in the Arctic can reverberate throughout the ecosystem.”
The team of researchers studied the narwhals behaviour at the glaciers and collected data about the glacier’s properties to better understand their behavioural preferences. “Narwhals like slow-moving, big walls of ice where conditions are still and serene instead of a lot of runoff and disturbance,” Laidre says.
Scientists have known that narwhals spend time at the fronts of glaciers in Greenland during the summer but they did not know why narwhals have an affinity for these glaciers.
To conduct the study the research team fitted 15 narwhals with GPS trackers and studied their movements over four years in Greenland’s Melville Bay. They combined this data with information collected about glaciers in the same period.
The research is ongoing and they are currently using acoustic monitors and land-based cameras to collect year-round data on the narwhals to shed further light on this behaviour. They are even looking at putting temperature sensors on some of the narwhals to better understand the effect of climate change in the Arctic.
Source: University of Washington