Unicorns of the sea: Dying in the depths

Species are at risk as global warming makes feeding, migration and even breathing critically difficult. By Geoffrey Lean

A A A

Narwhals, the "unicorns" of the sea, are in particular danger as whales and dolphins, already depleted by centuries of hunting, are driven towards extinction by global warming, a new report reveals.

Whales that depend on the edges of rapidly retreating polar ice - the narwhal, beluga, bowhead and right whales - are especially vulnerable, as are those living in particularly restricted areas, such as the northern end of the Gulf of California. Those that migrate thousands of miles may be at risk from changes along their route.

The narwhal, the male of which has a left tooth that juts eight feet from its skull, has long fascinated the world. Elizabeth I paid £10,000, more than for a new castle, for a single spiralled tusk. The royal sceptre is made from one.

By some estimates, narwhal numbers are now falling by as much as 10 per cent a year. As the Arctic ice shrinks, their food is also diminishing.

To make things even worse, adds the report by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to be published soon in the nature conservation journal 'Oryx', an anomaly in climate change is leading to more ice in and around Baffin Bay, in northern Canada, the narwhal's main wintering area. This is freezing over the cracks in the ice and patches of open water where they need to surface to breathe.

White beluga whales and the bowhead whale are similarly threatened by the retreating ice, while the right whale is a victim of changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation, which is related to the Pacific weather system that causes El Niño.

But perhaps the most endangered species of all identified by the report is the rare vaquita dolphin, found in the Gulf of California. As the seas warm, marine species usually head for cooler waters, but the vaquita has no escape route as its way north is blocked by land. Mediterranean fin whales and humpback whales in the northern Indian Ocean may be caught in similar marine cul-de-sacs, while white-beaked dolphins living over continental shelves off north-west Scotland also have nowhere to go.

Species in peril: The giants of the deep

Once hunted for their meat and blubber, these whales, while protected from man, are now endangered by the global warming of man's making.

Bowhead whale

Up to 18 metres long - one third of this its head - and 100 tons. A 60cm layer of blubber helps it survive the Arctic waters that are its home. Southern right whale

Southern right whale

Up to 18 metres long and 80 tons. Almost wiped out by 19th-century whalers, it migrates towards Antarctica during the summer months. Beluga whale

Beluga whale

Up to five metres long and 1.5 tons. Known as 'the songstress of the deep', it spends its summers in shallow Arctic bays and winters in pack-ice.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
Pistorius leaves Pretoria High Court to be taken to prison
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML, JavaScript, CSS, MSSQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

English Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - So...

French Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: French Teacher ? Sou...

Geography Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Geography Teacher ? ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album