Cetacean spatial trends from 2005 to 2019 in Svalbard, Norway

[Published 25 January 2022]

Scientific Publications

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This study uses cetacean sighting data, acquired via a citizen science programme, to update distributions and spatial trends of whales and dolphins in waters around the Svalbard Archipelago during the period 2005–2019. Distributions, based on kernel density estimates, from an early period (2005–2019) and a recent period (2015–19) were compared to identify potential shifts in distribution in this area, which is experiencing rapid warming and concomitant sea-ice losses. Among the three Arctic endemic cetaceans, white whales (Delphinapterus leucas, also known as beluga) had a stable, coastal distribution throughout the study, whereas narwhals (Monodon monoceros) and bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) were observed only north of the archipelago, but with increasing frequency during the recent period. White-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) had a stable distribution along the continental shelf break, west and south of Svalbard. Sperm whale observations shifted from west of Bjørnøya during the early period to being concentrated around the north end of Prins Karls Forland, west of Spitsbergen during the recent period. The four summer-resident baleen whales—blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)—have shifted their distributions from the continental shelf break west of Spitsbergen during the early period into fjords and coastal areas during the recent period. These changes coincide with increased inflows of Atlantic Water into the fjords along the west coast of Spitsbergen and across the north of the archipelago.

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