Special Projects -
High Arctic Cetacean Survey

Numerous Inuit communities across the Canadian Arctic hunt narwhals and bowhead whales for subsistence, economic and cultural reasons. Sustainability of these important harvesting activities relies on obtaining up-to-date estimates of population abundance. Obtaining such estimates, however, is challenging because of the vast geographic distribution of these species, and difficult Arctic weather conditions. The last estimates are approximately 10 years old and known to be incomplete, given the broad spatial range of both populations.


  • Obtain new abundance estimates of the Baffin Bay narwhal population and the Eastern Canada-West Greenland bowhead whale population.

How to achieve this goal

An extensive line-transect aerial survey was conducted in the eastern Canadian Arctic in August 2013.

In addition to the resources from three regions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Nunavut communities were involved in every step of the project. Traditional knowledge on narwhal and bowhead whales all around Baffin Island was used in conjunction with previous aerial surveys and satellite telemetry studies to determine the areas to cover during the survey.

During flight, all visual observations of narwhals and bowhead whales were documented. Moreover, aircrafts collected continuous photographic images from under the plane. These geo-referenced images have been used to estimate the proportion of whales present at the surface missed by observers, while the fraction of time diving narwhals are not visible near the surface will be inferred from time-depth recorders deployed on animals.

The estimate was corrected for perception bias (caused by observers missing narwhals present at the surface) and accounts for the fraction of time diving narwhals are not visible near the surface.

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