A study published earlier this year in the journal Ecological Applications identified the narwhal as the species the most vulnerable to climate change. Sadly, we saw evidence of this tragic vulnerability as hundreds of these mythical creatures became trapped in the ice in Pond Inlet, Nunavut a couple of weeks ago.

The study variables used to predict the narwhals’ ability to withstand climate-induced changes in their environment included population size, habitat uniqueness, diet diversity and last but certainly not least, the ability to cope with changes in sea ice. While the population size is fairly robust, estimated at somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 (about 21,000 for the narwhals in question), trillions of them mean nothing if they have nowhere to live, nothing to eat and face growing threats of human disturbance. For example, the narwhal dives about 6,000 feet to feed on Greenland halibut, which is on Greenpeace's Redlist of fish to avoid because of overfishing. If we continue, there goes a primary food source. With water temperatures changing, so too will the patterns of their prey.

The narwhal finds its home in areas of thick ice coverage with cracks as few as 1 percent of the surface. It uses these cracks to travel back and forth from the coastal environment to the open ocean in the winter. It’s not news that the Arctic ice is melting. This creates an altered habitat and renders the narwhals more vulnerable to predators. Additionally, with overall ice coverage decreasing each year, there is a higher chance for ice to freeze quickly as winter sets in. With abnormal ice coverage patterns, and whales moving into otherwise unchartered territories, we will likely see more cases of whales becoming trapped.

As the small holes in the ice closed in, the narwhals in Pond Inlet were faced with an untimely end through starvation or more likely suffocation. Some concerned Canadians have mistakenly turned their feelings of frustration and anger towards our Inuit and northern peoples. Make no mistake, the villain here is climate change and its accomplices are governments such as Harper’s that refuses to take adequate measures to ensure Canada drastically reduces its greenhouse gas emissions and combats our warming globe.

As temperatures in our Arctic continue to rise, it will become essential to ensure our most threatened of species, such as our narwhals, are protected in marine reserves to ensure what little critical habitat they have left is safe from further human disturbance.

How many of Canada’s species must become threatened before the Canadian government takes strong action on climate change and marine protection?