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Gazprom Neft research expedition delivers valuable data on the narwhal population in the Arctic

Press-release Arctic

The second research expedition under Gazprom Neft’s “Narwhal Project” is now complete — the research team having now returned to the port of Archangelsk following three weeks researching the “sea unicorns” of the Russian Arctic. Groups of mammals and their young, as well as mixed groups of narwhals and beluga whales, were found around the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Initial analysis suggests that narwhals are seasonal inhabitants of this body of water, and that reproduction occurs in the Russian Arctic.

Monitoring of the Arctic ecosystem through comprehensive research on the narwhal is the objective of a project being undertaken by Gazprom Neft in partnership with the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution (Russian Academy of Sciences). The research element of this project involves assessing the current status of the narwhal population in the western sector of Russia’s Arctic zone, determining the size and social structure of population groups, and working on an inclusive programme to protect the species and its habitat.

The expedition involved professional photographers and video makers. Their footage will be used to develop a major educational project on the high-latitude Arctic, the official platform for which is narwhal.ru, with an Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/narwhal.ru/.

“The lead-time for scientific fieldwork in Franz Josef Land was extremely tight. Nonetheless, we managed to encounter animals in the same place as we did in 2019 — near Jackson Island. That quick, on-the-ground decision to carry on looking for narwhals around the Northbrook Islands turned out to be the right one! We encountered narwhals, beluga whales, walruses, polar bears and bowhead whales in the bays around the southern tip of Zemlya Georga (Prince George Land) and the channel between the Mabel and Bell Islands. We’ve taken records, and collected as much material as possible. There’s a lot of work ahead in processing these observations — and absolute certainty that this research must go on.”
Olga Shpak Candidate of Biological Sciences, Expedition Leader and Senior Researcher, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Scientists
“The Arctic is a unique region in terms of its climatic conditions and natural environment — and a strategic region for Gazprom Neft. The company has, voluntarily, taken on additional commitments to protect the biodiversity of these little-explored areas. The Narwhal project includes a series of expeditions, ongoing research and educational pathways, and is bringing a number of institutional Arctic partners together. That approach is taking research into the narwhal to a new level. The second expedition under this project saw us not just undertaking planned scientific research, but also collecting an unprecedented volume of visual content on this unique Arctic animal.”
Mikhail Bergart Head, Narwhal Project
Notes for editors

The narwhal (Latin: Monodon Monoceros; the “sea unicorn”) — is a rare cetacean species, with a distinctive tusk. The narwhal lives at high latitudes — in the Arctic Ocean, and the North Atlantic, mainly around Franz Josef Land, the waters around the North Island of Novaya Zemlya and Spitsbergen, the Canadian Archipelago, and the shores of Greenland. An adult narwhal can reach up to 3.8–4.5 metres in length. Males can weigh up to two to three tonnes, and females about 900 kilogrammes. The narwhal is listed in the Russian Red Book (a directory of Russia’s endangered species).

Organised by Gazprom Neft, the Narwhal Project is the first comprehensive research project on studying, preserving and popularising the legendary “sea unicorn” of the Arctic. The objective of the project is to study the narwhal population in Russian waters, and put in place a programme to protect the species and its habitat. A communication programme will form an important part of this programme, in addition to its scientific and research content. The Narwhal Project has brought together research scientists, science communicators and popularisers, businesses, government agencies, and community activists. The project was initiated in 2019, with its first research expedition (organised by Gazprom Neft together with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Ecology and Evolution) delivering a number of major scientific insights. The Narwhal Project is being implemented as part of Gazprom Neft’s “Home Towns” corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. The project’s second expedition is being undertaken with the support of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment of the Russian Federation and the Northern Department of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring.

Gazprom Neft’s “Home Towns” CSR programme has been consistently improving living standards in those locations in with the company operates since 2012, supporting initiatives by local people as well as developing the company’s own projects. The programme is mainly focussed on developing social infrastructure in the regions, and on supporting education, science, and environmental projects.