Greenland is prepared to limit cruise activity to prevent narwhal loss | Polarjournal
Damned if they don’t; dinner if they do (Photo: Paul Nickeln)

On 6 May, Greenland’s legislature will hear the first reading of a bill that would make it possible for the country to ban cruise ships and sailboats from fjords that are known to be summer habitats for narwhals and beluga whales. The bill has been submitted to Inatsisartut in response to recommendations by biologists that narwhal hunting in the waters off south-eastern Greenland be halted in order to prevent the species from disappearing there.

Since 2019, Nammco, a scientific body responsible for monitoring marine mammals in the North Atlantic, has recommended that quotas in three hunting areas in the waters off south-eastern Greenland be eliminated. The most recent warning, issued at the end of December, predicts that continued whale hunting would result in the species disappearing from the waters off south-eastern Greenland within a decade if the quota — which was set at 40 last year and has been raised to 50 this year — is not eliminated entirely.

Nammco reckons that the population of narwhals in south-eastern Greenland has declined by 70% since 2008. Though hunters report no decline in population, they suggest that cruise ships and sailboats that sail in hunting areas disturb narwhals, or sail close them, and that his may have resulted in undercounting during scientific population surveys. The hunters’ observations, according to Jens Napaattooq, the lawmaker who introduced the bill, is line with the findings of a 2018 paper that had found that narwhals where highly sensitive to ship noise, with some fleeing from areas despite the closest source of noise being found more than 70km away.

Does such curiosity really kill cetaceans? (Photo: Michael Wenger)

Imposing a ban, Mr Napaattooq said, was a necessary precaution that would prevent narwhals from migrating to other areas and depriving communities of an important source of food. In accepting the bill for consideration, Kalistat Lund, the environment minister, recommended that the government be given administrative authority to implement sailing bans without having to base a decision to do so on scientific studies.

“We want to use our resources on concrete actions; passing legislation, not new studies. But any regulations will need to be formulated in close collaboration with hunters and biologists,” Mr Lund said.

Tourism has been identified by successive Greenlandic governments as one of the pillars of an economy that is independent of subsidies from Denmark. A sailing ban could impact the industry, Mr Lund admitted, but hunting, he said, was an important aspect of Greenlandic heritage that needed to be protected. In order to be able to keep killing whales, it will be necessary to save them.

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal

Featured image: Paul Nickeln

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