Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

No. 335: Seabirds and marine mammals in the western Greenland Sea, August-September 2017

Boertmann, D., Kyhn, L.A. & Petersen, I.K. 2019. Seabirds and marine mammals in the western Greenland Sea, August-September 2017. Results from an aerial survey. Aarhus University, DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, 36 pp. Scientific Report No. 335. http://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR335.pdf


In August and September an aerial survey primarily for seabirds in the Greenland Sea was conducted as part of the Strategic Environmental Study Program for the Northeastern Greenland area. The aim was to search for concentrations of particularly migrating seabirds, which could be vulnerable to oil spills. Marine mammals were also recorded. The survey was financed by the, at that time, active petroleum companies, through the Greenland authorities.

The survey platform was a DHC-6 Twin Otter, and the airstrips at Danmarkshavn and Daneborg was used as bases. The survey period was 24 August to 2 September 2017 and approx. 6000 km were flown along predefined transects spaced with 25 km (Figure 3).

In general few birds were observed, at least compared to the densities of seabirds in the West Greenland waters. Most numerous and widespread were northern fulmar and black-legged kittiwake. The only species to be found in distinct aggregations was the little auk, which were found in two concentration areas, where they apparently assemble to moult. Arctic terns were seen in several flocks on direct migration. Notably, there was a complete absence of thick-billed murres. These were expected to occur in the surveyed area, as they migrate in large numbers from their breeding sites in Svalbard to wintering sites off Newfoundland and Southwest Greenland. Apparently this migration takes place east of the surveyed area.

Among the marine mammals, some fin-, blue- and humpback whales were observed east of the shelf break, and in total four bowhead whales were seen on the shelf (one east of the shelf break).

Very few seals were observed, which may be a result of the scaring effect of the aircraft.

Eighteen walrus haul-outs known to be more or less regularly used was surveyed, and in only four of these walruses were found (Table 2).