Another day, another species in trouble because of climate change. First the polar bear, then the koala bear and now the narwhal.

New research suggests that the mysterious whale with a long spiral tusk, may be more at risk from climatic change that the better known polar bear. Researchers fear that the narwhal is so attuned to its environment, so narrow in its range of habitat and specific in diet, that it may be one of the least able of Arctic mammals to adapt to rapid warming in the high north.

The narwhal population is concentrated in a relatively small area between Baffin Island and Greenland. With a small population of no more than 80,000 individuals, narwhals stick closely to established migratory patterns and are more narrowly distributed than the two other Arctic whales, the bowhead and beluga.

“Narwhals are true Arctic specialists. They take very few species of prey. Unlike beluga, they won’t just eat anything that comes along,” says the study’s lead author, research scientist Dr Kristin Laidre of the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington.

“Things are becoming unpredictable for them,” says Laidre. “Narwhals are regular in the habits, inflexible about where they spend their time, and tend to return to the same place year after year. We don’t know exactly how they’ll fare with less ice, but if it is lost, the temperature and currents change, that affects their prey and this will impact on the narwhal.”


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