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Research Document - 2011/131

A Synthesis and Critical Review of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Literature on Narwhal (Monodon monoceros) in the Eastern Canadian Arctic

By C. Furgal and R. Laing


This paper synthesizes and reviews the documented Inuit Knowledge (referred to here and in the literature generally as Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK) available on narwhal (Monodon monoceros) in the Canadian Arctic. It has identified a number of significant contributions from Inuit Knowledge holders evident in the reports of interest for species management including the identification of critical habitat, a potential challenge to the understanding of summer site fidelity in the species, the existence of two colour and size morphs among the species, and trends in stock numbers. In comparing the science and TEK on this species at the stock and population levels, opportunities for complementary use of the datasets are evident. The TEK has the potential to enhance understanding of the species’ ecology in a number of areas. Contradictions that may exist between the two datasets or knowledge systems, may originate from differences in the temporal, spatial or phenomenological scale at which observations are gathered and knowledge is generated. A review of the methods used in the collection, treatment, analysis and reporting of the TEK identified a number limitations in the research conducted to date. Currently the lack of attention to detail in social research methods and processes to ensure reliability and validity in the collection and analysis of the TEK, or the communication of this information in the reports, raises questions with regards whether or not the full contribution from this knowledge is accurately represented. It is recommended that a comprehensive, integrated science and TEK mixed methods study be considered to gain a more comprehensive understanding of narwhal biology and ecology, on which management decisions could be based. Such cooperative inquiry would allow for a valuable, robust, transparent, and defensible dataset to be created that considers all knowledge holders and sources involved.

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