Narwhals stable: Inuit partnerships crucial says COSEWIC

Male narwhals have a straight tusk that can measure up to 2.5 metres long. (Paul Nicklen/Getty Images)
“Narwhal are recognized as a cultural cornerstone by Inuit, the narwhal holds profound significance,” Jason Akearok, executive director of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, said. (Paul Nicklen/Getty Images)

The narwhal, among the 12 species examined by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) this spring, has been declared stable.

According to the committee, partnerships with the Inuit and their traditional knowledge are crucial factors.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board said Inuit would continue to work with western science to monitor the animals.

“Narwhal are recognized as a cultural cornerstone by Inuit, the narwhal holds profound significance,” Jason Akearok, executive director of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, said on Wednesday.

“In alignment with their cultural relevance, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board commits to a thorough examination of scientific insights and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit [knowledge] from COSEWIC, evaluating their assessment of the narwhal as ‘Not at Risk.'”

The narwhal, sometime referred to as ‘the unicorn of the sea’ is immediately recognized by the large tusk on its forehead. The marine mammal is also an important food sourse in many of Canada’s Inuit communities.

Narwhal muktuk. Narwhal is one of the marine mammals Inuit in rely on for food. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

COSEWIC said sea ice loss and increased boat traffic in the Arctic, pose challenges for the animals.

Studies have also shown increased shipping and exploration activity in the North is creating noise affecting the animals.

But COSEWIC said at present the whale is showing its ability to adjust to changing conditions. 

“So far, these whales are proving adaptable, and populations remain stable,” COSEWIC said.

“Importantly, partnerships to co-manage Narwhal are strong, where the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and many others closely monitor and manage populations.”

Gray-headed chickadee disappearing from Canadian Arctic 

Another northern species evaluated at the meeting did not fare as well.

COSEWIC described the gray-headed chickadee, found above the Arctic Circle in Yukon and the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories, as disappearing “under mysterious circumstances.” 

It was put on the “endangered” list.

COSEWIC's designations
  • Extinct (X): A wildlife species that no longer exists.
  • Extirpated (XT): A wildlife species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere.
  • Endangered (E): A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
  • Threatened (T): A wildlife species that is likely to become Endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.
  • Special Concern (SC): A wildlife species that may become Threatened or Endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
  • Not at Risk (NAR): A wildlife species that has been evaluated and found to be not at risk of extinction given the current circumstances.
  • Data Deficient (DD): A category that applies when the available information is insufficient (a) to resolve a wildlife species’ eligibility for assessment or (b) to permit an assessment of the wildlife species’ risk of extinction.
  • Species at Risk: A wildlife species that has been assessed as Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern.

The other species assessed by COSEWIC include fish, other birds, plants, one snail and one fly.

“Some species are doing better than predicted, some are struggling, and some are sadly gone,” David Lee, chair of the committee, said.

“Ongoing efforts are needed to ensure those we steward have a future.”

COSEWIC’s next meeting is November 2024.

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Warming climate poses challenge to Arctic animals — and those who hunt them, CBC News

Finland: Possible record year for arctic fox in Nordics with 762 cubs counted in 2022, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Wildlife project to save endangered species in Sweden, Radio Sweden

RussiaOral histories unlock impact of climate change on nomadic life in Arctic Russia, says study, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska law officer killed in muskox attack outside his house, The Associated Press

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