Seaquakes Trap 500 Narwhals in Arctic Ice

Narwhals trapped in the Arctic
Seaquakes Trap Narwhals in Arctic Ice

Seaquakes Trap 500 Narwhals

As many as 500 tusked whales were trapped in the ice north of Baffin Island – far more than originally estimated – making it one of the biggest strandings ever seen in the Arctic. The narwhals were spotted on 15 November 2008 by Inuit hunters snowmobiling on sea ice in the area. Estimates at the time suggested about 200 whales got trapped after ice moved in or formed quickly, preventing them from reaching open water. It turned out to be more than 500.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans officials gave the Inuit in Pond Inlet the go-ahead to start killing the whales last week when it appeared nothing short of an icebreaker could save the animals from eventually drowning. That harvest was supposed to have wrapped up by the weekend. But the narwhals keep surfacing,

The Inuit hunters continued to harvest them with guns and harpoons on Monday after spending most of Sunday trying to make the breathing holes larger. The whales are trying to breathe through about 11 small holes in the ice. In the panic to reach the holes, the larger adult whales have accidentally pushed young calves up onto the sea ice on at least two occasions.

“It’s not a pretty sight,” said Allan Hawkes, the Co-op store manager in Pond Inlet who is selling the whale blubber to other Arctic communities and the ivory tusks to international buyers. “I used to work on a killing line at a slaughter plant down south, so I’m kind of used to this sort of thing. The one good thing about this is, nothing is getting wasted. And if you think about it, this is really no different from the way we harvest farm animals down south. Virtually everything will find its way to someone’s table.”

Narwhal are found mostly in the Arctic circle, and are renowned for their extraordinarily long tusk, which is actually a twisted incisor tooth that projects from the left side of its upper jaw and can be up to three meters (10 feet) long.

“A couple of weeks ago, when the ice was still moving, there were quite a few narwhal seen out there in the open water,” Jayko Allooloo, chairman of the Pond Inlet hunters and trappers organization, told public broadcaster CBC.


The SEAQUAKE SOLUTION developed by the Deafwhale Society indicates that this large pod of narwhals lost their ability to navigate south to open water due to barotraumatic sinus injury suffered on 7 & 8 October 2008 during exposure to high-intensity pressure changes (called T-Phase Waves by seismologists).

The extreme oscillations in diving pressure were generated by a series of nasty seafloor earthquake near Lat 79.75N Lon. 115.90W. Earthquakes along the mid-Arctic ridge radiate both compressional and shear waves, which in turn excite the Arctic acoustic channel. These waterborne T waves have been observed about 300 km from the source and apparently enter the acoustic channel by scattering of vertical rays into nearly horizontal ones by the Arctic ice canopy above the source. The T waves are acoustically energetic (up to 400 kJ) and are of surprisingly long duration (up to 72s at its 8-dB down levels), have low-frequency content (peaks in the 5-15-Hz region), and have haystack spectra (4th power positive and negative dependence below and above the peak frequency, respectively). These oscillation is diving pressures were generated during two violent undersea earthquakes. The energy, not allowed to dissipate under the ice, traveled a long way.

More specifically, the entrapment in the ice near Baffin Island was caused by navigation failure due to barosinusitis induced by rapid and excessive changes in diving pressure generated by any one of five Arctic Ocean earthquakes listed on the following two web pages:  Global CMT Catalog page 1  and Global CMT Catalog page 2

In general, the seafloor danced rapidly during a thrusting earthquake, pushing and pulling at the water in a fashion to generate excessive changes in the hydrostatic pressure surrounding the area where the pod of narwhals were feeding. The quick fluctuations in pressure caused the volume of air inside the head sinuses of the whales to increase and decrease rapidly in response to the changing pressure resulting in a barotraumatic injury in the membranes that surround these sinuses.

The whales use these sinuses to generate echonavigation signals and to read the returning echo, thus an injury of this nature would not only disrupt diving and feeding but also disable echo-navigation. A pod of earthquake-injured narwhals would not be able to dive again, nor be able to determine the direction of any returning navigating signals.

Capt David Williams, (BSc, MSc)