A multi-year study of narwhal occurrence in the western Fram Strait—detected via passive acoustic monitoring

  • Heidi Ahonen Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway
  • Kathleen M. Stafford Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
  • Christian Lydersen Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway
  • Laura de Steur Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway
  • Kit M. Kovacs Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway
Keywords: Arctic, echolocation, Monodon monoceros, seasonal distribution, vocalization, whales


Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) has proven to be an efficient method for studying vocally active marine mammals in areas that are difficult to access on a year-round basis. In this study, a PAM recorder was deployed on an oceanographic mooring in western Fram Strait (78°50'N, 5°W) to record the acoustic presence of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) over a 3-yr period. Acoustic data were recorded for 14–17 min at the start of each hour from 25 September 2010 to 26 August 2011, from 2 September 2012 to 11 April 2013 and from 8 September 2013 to 27 April 2014. Pulsed and tonal signals, as well as echolocation clicks, were detected throughout the recording periods, demonstrating that this species is present in this region throughout the year. Generalized linear mixed-effect models showed a negative correlation between the acoustic presence of narwhals and very dense sea-ice cover (≥90%). Surprisingly, a positive correlation was found between the acoustic presence of narwhals and the presence of warm Atlantic Water in the area. Available data suggest that there might be a unique stock of narwhals in the Eurasian sector of the Atlantic Arctic that do not exhibit the “traditional” narwhal pattern of seasonal migration between coastal summering areas and offshore wintering grounds, but rather remain resident year-round in deep, offshore waters.


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How to Cite
Ahonen H., Stafford K. M., Lydersen C., de Steur L., & Kovacs K. M. (2019). A multi-year study of narwhal occurrence in the western Fram Strait—detected via passive acoustic monitoring. Polar Research, 38. https://doi.org/10.33265/polar.v38.3468
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