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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Scientist

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

£18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Strategic Partnerships Coordinator

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their research appears at the f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen