In quest of the narwhal

in the footsteps of the unicorn of the seas

Presentation of the project

The narwhal is a symbol of the Arctic. At the confluence of the animal, cultural and economic themes of the region, this small white whale has long been the lifeblood of the indigenous populations and the fantasy of Westerners who took it for a unicorn of the seas because of the long tusk characteristic of the males.

Today, it is also another symbol: that of an Arctic in full mutation under the effect of human activity. It is this symbol that Swiss naturalist painter Pierre Baumgart has decided to tell in his travel story, that of a quest, and through a series of drawings.

During the expedition, he will board the Mauritius in different places known to be distribution areas of the narwhal: along the east coast of Greenland, on the western edge of the Northwest Passage between Disko Bay (Greenland) and Resolute Bay (Canada), and finally between Tiksi, Nordvik and Dickson (Russia) to try to catch a glimpse of this animal whose discretion has contributed to its legend.

Indeed, the narwhal lives along the ice pack and has adapted very well to the extreme conditions of these cold waters. The absence of a dorsal fin allows it to evolve at the edge of the ice where the killer whale, one of its only predators, cannot follow it. Moreover, it is quite rare, and it is even more difficult to observe for these practical reasons: it is very dangerous for a boat to approach the pack ice.

It dives at great depths to capture the fish and cephalopods it feeds on, thanks to its sophisticated echolocation system.

We know a little more about its distribution and migration corridors, but large parts of its lifestyle and morphology are still obscure. And we also know, unfortunately, that this cetacean is threatened by global warming and by the noise pollution of maritime traffic that develops in its range.

Pierre Baumgart will tell and illustrate all this, and much more, in his quest for the narwhal.

image pierre baumgart

“The narwhal is an arctic symbol par excellence. It represents everything I love: cetaceans, ice, difficulty, quest… “

Biography of Pierre Baumgart

Born in 1969 in Geneva, Pierre Baumgart has always been passionate about wildlife and nature. He is a draftsman, engraver and naturalist watercolorist. He follows in the footsteps of the great Swiss naturalist artist Robert Hainard (1906-1999), whom he met as a child and whom he later asked to teach him his particular engraving technique, between European tradition and Japanese printmaking, with gradations and touches of color.

He spends days and nights observing animals in their habitat before making prints that can take him weeks. As part of The Ocean Mapping Expedition, the Pacific Foundation’s previous expedition, Pierre Baumgart embarked on Fleur de Passion in 2017 in Australia for two weeks of sailing in the southern Great Barrier Reef.