Although indigenous peoples in the Arctic have traditionally hunted narwhals for food, recent information suggests that the focus has shifted to the marine mammal’s tusk — which is actually nothing more than an elongated, uniquely-spiraled tooth. The IUCN notes “substantial uncertainty about numbers and trends in large parts of the range and clear evidence of decline for specific subpopulations”, and explains that potentially unsustainable hunting may pose a very serious threat to their future.
The intense hunting (including associated loss due to wounding and sinking) in Greenland and Canada gives cause for concern, particularly given the lack of reliable data on hidden mortality and serious injury.
While narwhal hunting in Canada has been restricted to Inuit communities since 1971, the IUCN says that “the cash value of ivory and the need for cash to buy snowmobiles have both greatly increased”.
A 2005 report to the CITES Animal Committee says Canada exported an average of 79 tusks* per year between 1980 and 1985.
CITES trade data indicates that those figures have nearly doubled since then, with an average of 133 tusks exported each year between 2005 and 2009.
In fact, “tusks” comprised the majority of all narwhal exports Canada documented between 2000 and 2009.
Canada reported exporting total of 1,115 “tusks” during that time, mainly for commercial and personal purposes.
Over the years, it seems “subsistence” narwhal hunters have started to abandon traditional practices for modern weaponry (which some argue are more “humane”).
This shift has apparently improved killing efficiency and, in turn, enabled hunters to supply more narwhal ivory for international trade — yet it is still not considered a “commercialized” industry. The IUCN noted that these observed changes are one of the most serious threats to these marine mammals.
Hunting with modern equipment in specific parts of Greenland and Canada represents the most long-standing and consistent threat to narwhals throughout their range. More....