Beluga/Narwhal Bioacoustics Project

Location or Study Area: Cumberland Sound and Scott Inlet, Nunavut
Submitted by: Marianne Marcoux


The environment of belugas and narwhals in the Canadian Arctic is rapidly changing. These changes include increased shipping traffic, changes in the Arctic food web, and changes in sea ice cover. The beluga population in Cumberland Sound is listed as “threatened” by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). This population dramatically decreased due to commercial whaling in the late 1900s and it has failed to rebound to pre-whaling numbers. Emerging fisheries in Cumberland Sound are targeting Greenland halibut, a potentially important prey for belugas. However, the impact of this fishery on beluga is unknown. The narwhal is listed as “special concern” by the COSEWIC. Potential threats to narwhals include environmental contaminants, climate change, and industrial activities.

Project Description

We use passive acoustic methods to record the calls of narwhals and belugas and monitor their presence as well as their behaviour. Narwhals and belugas are highly vocal species that emit calls to communicate and to navigate in their environment. Both species emit echolocation clicks, pulsed calls and whistles. Narwhals and belugas also produce buzz calls, a series of rapid echolocation clicks, when they forage. We deploy hydrophones (underwater recorders) over a few months to a year to record the sounds of the whales and other noises in their environment. Then, we detect the calls of belugas and narwhals on these recordings. This allows us to determine when whales are present. In addition, the presence of buzz calls is used to infer when the whales were feeding. Our hydrophones also allow us to record other noises in the environment (e.g. shipping noise).


Principal Investigator: Steve Ferguson

For more information contact: Steve Ferguson (

UM Participants: Marianne Marcoux

Funding/Other Support

Ocean Tracking Network (
Earth Rangers (
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Map of Baffin Island showing our two study areas: Cumberland Sound and Scott Inlet.


Marianne Marcoux using a hydrophone to listen for whales. Credit: Gretchen Freud.


A fjord in Cumberland Sound. Credit: Marianne Marcoux.