Glacial fronts are important summer habitat for narwhals (Monodon monoceros); however, no studies have quantified which glacial properties attract whales. We investigated the importance of glacial habitats using telemetry data from n = 15 whales tagged in September of 1993, 1994, 2006 and 2007 in Melville Bay, West Greenland. For 41 marine-terminating glaciers, we estimated (i) narwhal presence/absence, (ii) number of 24 h periods spent at glaciers and (iii) the fraction of narwhals that visited each glacier (at 5, 7 and 10 km) in autumn. We also compiled data on glacier width, ice thickness, ice velocity, front advance/retreat, area and extent of iceberg discharge, bathymetry, subglacial freshwater run-off and sediment flux. Narwhal use of glacial habitats expanded in the 2000s probably due to reduced summer fast ice and later autumn freeze-up. Using a generalized multivariate framework, glacier ice front thickness (vertical height in the water column) was a significant covariate in all models. A negative relationship with glacier velocity was included in several models and glacier front width was a significant predictor in the 2000s. Results suggest narwhals prefer glaciers with potential for higher ambient freshwater melt over glaciers with silt-laden discharge. This may represent a preference for summer freshwater habitat, similar to other Arctic monodontids.
One contribution to the special feature ‘Effects of sea ice on Arctic biota’.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3518946.
- Received May 28, 2016.
- Accepted October 6, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.