Striking footage advances mystery of the narwhal tusk
Canadian scientists have discovered how Narwhals use their large tusks to hunt prey in the Arctic. (WWF Canada)
Published Friday, May 12, 2017 1:25PM EDT
A group of male Narwhals approach a school of Arctic cod swimming in the waters of Tremblay Sound in Nunavut. As the medium-sized whales move closer to their prey, they give a quick flick of their large tusks to stun the fish before swallowing them up whole.
The striking behaviour was captured on camera by Canadian scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the University of Windsor, World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium and Arctic Bear Productions during a field project last summer.
The first-of-its-kind drone footage has provided researchers with new insights into the purpose of the Narwhal’s iconic tusk. The whale’s tusk is actually a tooth that protrudes from the jaw in a spiral form that can extend over three metres. Scientists believe the tusk’s primary function is related to attracting a female mate, similar to a peacock’s feather, because it’s typically only found on males. This latest discovery, however, opens up even more possibilities about its value to the species.
Mariannne Marcoux, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said in a video uploaded to YouTube on Friday, that the Narwhals appear to be very agile with their tusks.
“What’s very exciting to me is what else can they do with their tusks?” Marcoux asked.
The scientists used an unmanned aerial drone to film the Narwhals, which allowed them to study the so-called “unicorns of the seas” without disturbing them in their natural habitat.
“It gives us a close enough image to give us these kinds of details of how the animals are feeding and how they’re behaving,” Bob Hodgins, a marine biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in the YouTube video. “It’s a really new perspective.”
The researchers said the exciting breakthrough will bring much-needed attention to conservation efforts in the Canadian Arctic. Narwhals live in Arctic waters in Nunavut, west Greenland and the European Arctic, according to the scientists. In Canada, there are approximately 158,000 Narwhals summering in Baffin Bay and another 12,500 in Hudson Bay.
“This footage, while also stunning to watch, will play a significant role in the future of narwhal conservation,” David Miller, WWF Canada President and CEO, said in the release. “As the Arctic warms and development pressure increases, it will be important to understand how narwhal are using their habitat during their annual migration.”