Reactions of Narwhals, Monodon monoceros, to Killer Whale, Orcinus orca, Attacks in the Eastern Canadian Arctic


  • Kristin L. Laidre Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, Washington 98105
  • Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Box 570, DK-3900 Nuuk
  • Jack R. Orr Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 501 University Crescent, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N6



Killer Whale, Orcinus orca, Narwhal, Monodon monoceros, predation, satellite telemetry, Admiralty Inlet, Nunavut, Canada


A Killer Whale attack on Narwhals was observed at Kakiak Point in Admiralty Inlet, Nunavut, Canada, in August 2005. Behavioral responses of both Narwhals and Killer Whales were documented by direct observation. Data collected from Narwhals instrumented with satellite-linked transmitters 5 days prior to the arrival of Killer Whales were used to examine changes in Narwhal movement patterns (e.g., dispersal and clumping) five days before the attack, during the attack, and five days after Killer Whales left the area. A minimum of four Narwhals were killed by 12-15 Killer Whales in a period of 6 hours. Narwhals showed a suite of behavioral changes in the immediate presence of Killer Whales including slow, quiet movements, travel close to the beach (<2 m from shore), use of very shallow water, and formation of tight groups at the surface. These behavioral changes are consistent with Inuit accounts of Killer Whale attacks on Narwhals. During the attack, Narwhals dispersed broadly, the groups were less clumped (standard deviation of inter-whale mean latitudes and longitudes), Narwhal space-use doubled from pre-attack home ranges of 347 km2 to 767 km2 (kernel 50% probability), and Narwhals shifted their distribution further south of the attack site. After the disappearance of Killer Whales, north-south dispersal of Narwhals contracted and was similar to pre-attack levels, total space use decreased slightly (599 km2), yet west-east dispersal remained high. Narwhals were distributed significantly (P < 0.001) more broadly offshore in areas not used before the occurrence of Killer Whales. In general, short-term reactions of Narwhals to Killer Whale presence were obvious; yet normal behavior (as observed from shore) resumed shortly after Killer Whales left the area. Long-term (five day) Narwhal behavioral responses included increased dispersal of Narwhal groups over large offshore areas. This is among the few reports of eyewitness Killer Whale attacks on Narwhals in the high Arctic and is the first time changes in Narwhal behavior have been documented in response to a predation event through the use of satellite telemetry.