Baffin Bay Narwhal Population Distribution and Numbers: Aerial Surveys in the Canadian High Arctic, 2002–04


  • P.R. Richard
  • J.L. Laake
  • R.C. Hobbs
  • M.P. Heide-Jørgensen
  • N.C. Asselin
  • H. Cleator



Monodontidae, line transect, mark-recapture distance sampling, population size, High Arctic, fiord


Aerial surveys of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) were conducted in the Canadian High Arctic during the month of August from 2002 to 2004. The surveys covered the waters of Barrow Strait, Prince Regent Inlet, the Gulf of Boothia, Admiralty Inlet, Eclipse Sound, and the eastern coast of Baffin Island, using systematic sampling methods. Fiords were flown along a single transect down the middle. Near-surface population estimates increased by 1.9 %– 8.7% when corrected for perception bias. The estimates were further increased by a factor of approximately 3, to account for individuals not seen because they were diving when the survey plane flew over (availability bias). These corrections resulted in estimates of 27 656 (SE = 14 939) for the Prince Regent and Gulf of Boothia area, 20 225 (SE = 7285) for the Eclipse Sound area, and 10 073 (SE = 3123) for the East Baffin Island fiord area. The estimate for the Admiralty Inlet area was 5362 (SE = 2681) but is thought to be biased. Surveys could not be done in other known areas of occupation, such as the waters of the Cumberland Peninsula of East Baffin, and channels farther west of the areas surveyed (Peel Sound, Viscount Melville Sound, Smith Sound and Jones Sound, and other channels of the Canadian Arctic archipelago). Despite these probable biases and the incomplete coverage, results of these surveys show that the summering range of narwhals in the Canadian High Arctic is vast. If narwhals are philopatri to their summering areas, as they appear to be, the total population of that range could number more than 60 000 animals. The largest numbers are in the western portion of their summer range, around Somerset Island, and also in the Eclipse Sound area. However, these survey estimates have large variances due to narwhal aggregation in some parts of the surveyed areas.