In 2013, the Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Pinngortitaleriffik and the Mineral Licence and Safety Authority (MLSA) and Environmental Agency for Mineral Resource Activities (EAMRA) of Greenland established a Strategic Environmental Study Plan for Northeast Greenland for providing environmental information for planning and regulating oil exploration activities (such as seismic explorations) and oil spill response in the Greenland Sea. One of the main goals in the plan was to understand the impact of seismic noise on marine mammals, which is speculated to have a great impact on especially the skittish narwhal. Displacement from feeding grounds or migratory routes by narwhals exposed to seismic sounds particularly if the whales associate negative events with the noise will have direct but also indirect (e.g. social behaviour, disruption in suckling) effects on narwhals.
The Scoresby Sound Fjord system offered a unique possibility for a large-scale research project in order to make an assessment of the short-term effect of seismic noise to narwhals. Partly because the system is closed as compared to Melville Bay in West Greenland where seismic studies have been attempted in previous years and partly because we wanted to make use of the field station in Hjørnedal which has proved a reliable place to live capture narwhals. With the help from local hunters, there is now a successful record of satellite tagged whales that has revealed their yearly distribution and diving behaviour which give us baseline information on narwhal behaviour in the fjords. We will be looking at the major distribution of narwhals as well as any changes in displacement, heart rate, diving behaviour, and vocalization during the seismic noise exposure experiment.
In all aspects the projects were a success and we are now diving into the analysis to answer our main objective in order to reveal how seismic noise effect narwhals. We are grateful for all the amazing people we have been fortunate enough to work with. Our most sincere thanks to Fernando Ugarte, Susanna Blackwell, Terrie Williams, Mikkel Sinding, Mikkel Skovrind, H.C. Schmidt, Jeppe Møhl, Mads Christoffersen, Inuuta Hammeken, Solveig Heide-Jørgensen, Tenna Boye, Rasmus Stenbak, Nadya Ramirez-Martinez, Kiddi Gunnarsson, Valdi Draupnisson, Per Trinhammer, Andreas Madsen, Lars Rasmussen, crew of Paamiut, Carsten Egevang, Rasmus Landgreen. You rock!