Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Nov 8;119(45):e2121092119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2121092119. Epub 2022 Oct 24.
Animals migrate in response to seasonal environments, to reproduce, to benefit from resource pulses, or to avoid fluctuating hazards. Although climate change is predicted to modify migration, only a few studies to date have demonstrated phenological shifts in marine mammals. In the Arctic, marine mammals are considered among the most sensitive to ongoing climate change due to their narrow habitat preferences and long life spans. Longevity may prove an obstacle for species to evolutionarily respond. For species that exhibit high site fidelity and strong associations with migration routes, adjusting the timing of migration is one of the few recourses available to respond to a changing climate. Here, we demonstrate evidence of significant delays in the timing of narwhal autumn migrations with satellite tracking data spanning 21 y from the Canadian Arctic. Measures of migration phenology varied annually and were explained by sex and climate drivers associated with ice conditions, suggesting that narwhals are adopting strategic migration tactics. Male narwhals were found to lead the migration out of the summering areas, while females, potentially with dependent young, departed later. Narwhals are remaining longer in their summer areas at a rate of 10 d per decade, a similar rate to that observed for climate-driven sea ice loss across the region. The consequences of altered space use and timing have yet to be evaluated but will expose individuals to increasing natural changes and anthropogenic activities on the summering areas.