Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New survey techniques improve narwhal population estimates

New aerial survey techniques lead to increased narwhal estimates

Improvements in aerial survey methods have led to increased estimates of narwhal populations in the eastern Arctic, according to a paper published Arctic, the journal of the University of Calgary's Arctic Institute of North America.

Previous estimates of narwhals were based on surface counts and covered part of their eastern Arctic summering range. They placed populations between 20,000 and 30,000. New estimates increase that number to over 60,000, says Pierre Richard, lead author and research scientist with the Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Counting marine animals is notoriously difficult. "It's not like you're counting your cows as they are going through the gate," says Richard, who developed the survey techniques with a team of scientists from Canada, the U.S. and Greenland.

Not only are observers traveling in aircraft flying at 180 kilometers an hour, they also have to contend with inclement weather conditions which can hinder visibility. "The weather can turn on a dime and you are often waiting for the sweet spot between foggy conditions and high winds," he says.

In addition, many animals are submerged. Narwhals are renowned for their deep diving abilities. In the winter, they dive to depths of two kilometers and they can remain submerged for up to 25 minutes. "Only one-third of their time is spent at the surface," says Richard.

There is also the problem of narwhal sighting distance. "The further the animal is away from the observer, the less likely you are to observe it," says Richard. At other times, whale sightings are coming "so fast and furious" it is difficult to count them accurately.

Richard and his colleagues developed two new approaches to correct for some of these biases. Using dive data acquired from instrumented animals, they developed a method for estimating how many narwhals are submerged. They also created a process to estimate the proportion of animals that observers might have missed, even if they were at the surface.

The surveys, which were conducted in August between 2002 and 2004, also covered new territory. Narwhals summer in the High Arctic archipelago and northern Hudson Bay and winter in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. Previous surveys had not covered all of their summering range. Richard and his colleagues extended data collection into the Gulf of Boothia and the east coast of Baffin Island. They were planning to fly over other areas, but were stopped by weather.

An accurate picture of narwhal populations is needed to set sustainable hunting quotas. Richard says that while his survey results show the narwhal population is larger than previously thought, management of the population should be exercised with caution. Survey results can be imprecise and there appear to be local stocks of narwhals that return each summer to specific areas within their range. This site fidelity suggests that stocks of narwhal occupying different summering areas should be managed separately, and that management of a stock should be based on the summer estimate of narwhals for that area only.

Richard's team will be waiting out weather again in 2010 to conduct further studies. This time, they hope to conduct newly designed surveys of Admiralty Inlet – if weather permits. During previous surveys, the area had been beleaguered by bad weather and sampling problems that put the accuracy of the area's narwhal estimate in question.

For media interviews with Pierre Richard contact:

Ruth Klinkhammer, Director of Communications, Arctic Institute of North America Tel: 403 220-7294, Email:

This media release is part of the Promotion of Arctic Science, an Arctic Institute of North America project made possible with the generous support of the Government of Canada Program for International Polar Year. The mission of the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary is to advance the study of the North American and circumpolar Arctic and to acquire, preserve and disseminate information on physical, environmental and social conditions in the North. More information can be found at

Ruth Klinkhammer | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Arctic marine animals narwhal population

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>