Going, Going, Gone….are High End Auction Houses Contributing To The Demise Of The Narwhal?
Going, going, gone….are high end auction houses contributing to the demise of the narwhal?
WDCS is calling on the high-end auction houses of Bonhams (UK) and Bonhams and Butterfields (USA) to refrain from offering narwhal tusks for sale at their auctions. WDCS fears that publicity and the high prices paid for the beautiful long ivory tusks of these arctic whales is contributing to the pressure on a species already subject to unsustainable and poorly regulated hunting. The main narwhal population hunted today in Greenland has crashed by as much as 75% in recent years, and is listed on Greenland’s Red List of species as kritisk truet’, critically endangered.
WDCS fears that the high value of the international trade in ivory tusks and carvings is increasing pressures on narwhal populations, as hunters seek to take advantage of a lucrative source of cash. Unfortunately, this has led to hunters’ associations calling for, and management agencies approving, quotas that are far higher than sustainable levels. Exacerbated by poor regulation of hunting, and inadequate monitoring and control of international trade, over-hunting is proving disastrous for this unique species that spawned the ancient unicorn myth.
Over the course of 2007/2008, Bonhams and Butterfields (USA) sold at least four narwhal tusks at its Los Angeles saleroom, ranging in price from $11,000 to $20,400 for a single tusk. WDCS is especially troubled by the number of narwhal tusks on offer at the Bonhams (UK) “Gentleman’s Library Sale” on 21st January 2009. Seven narwhal tusks are up for auction in a single day, with price estimates ranging from £500 to £10,000. As far as WDCS has been able to determine, this is the largest single offering of narwhal tusks in the UK since the European Union banned the import of narwhal tusks from Canada in 1984 and limited imports from Greenland to personal effects only (i.e. not for resale) in 2004.
Sue Fisher, Policy Director of WDCS North America said: “The publicity surrounding these sales and the high prices fetched by the tusks adds to the incentive for hunters to take as many narwhals as possible. Although the lots on offer at the Gentleman’s Library Sale have information on provenance such as license certificates and history of ownership, we are concerned that these sales, and Bonham’s enthusiastic marketing of narwhal tusks, will stimulate the already high demand for narwhal tusks and increase hunting pressure. Several wild populations of narwhals cannot sustain current rates of hunting and all populations face dramatic and growing threats from climate change, over-fishing, pollution and industrial development of their habitat. We call on Bonhams to help us take the immediate pressure off narwhals - by relieving the threat posed to their survival by collectors.”
WDCS has called on Bonhams (UK) and Bonhams and Butterfields (USA) to help ensure a future for the narwhal by removing narwhal tusk items at any of their future auctions. Sue Fisher added: “Each time the hammer comes down on a sale of a narwhal tusk it strikes another blow to the future of the species. Unless auction houses such as Bonhams take immediate action, and stop such sales, the narwhal could well become endangered across the whole of its range.”
In 2008, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) listed the narwhal as Near Threatened, and emphasized that the impacts of over-hunting of narwhals must also be considered within the context of climate change impacts. It warned that the species as a whole could become ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ within five years.