Never-Before-Seen Video Solves The Mystery Of Narwhal Tusks

Posted: May 14 2017, 3:53am CDT | by , Updated: May 14 2017, 4:02am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Never-Before-Seen Video Solves the Mystery of Narwhal Tusks
Courtesy of WWF Canada

Researchers finally have an answer for the purpose of Narwhal's unusual tusk

Narwhale, the Arctic whale, is known for its distinctive long tusk protruding to its head, but the actual purpose of this structure remains unknown.

Their mysterious tusks have been a subject to speculations over the years. Some believe that these tusks act like sensors that allow the whales to detect changes in water pressure, temperature and salinity while other suggest that narwhale use their tusks to make holes in sea ice to determine its thickness. However, a new study rejects both these explanations.

Recent drone footage captured by WWF Canada shows that narwhals appear to use tusks to tap and stun Arctic cod. This behavior cripples or limits the movement of the fish, making them easier to prey upon and eat.

“This is an entirely new observation of how the tusk is used." Brandon Laforest, a senior specialist of Arctic species and ecosystems with WWF-Canada told National Geographic.

Known as “unicorn of the sea,” narwhal lives up to its name. These whales are found in Arctic waters of Nunavut, west Greenland and the European Arctic. Male narwhals are distinguished from the females by their tusks. The tusk is actually a canine tooth that can grow up to 9 feet long.

Since the animal spends its entire life in the deep Arctic waters, narwhals are rarely seen. This has also made it difficult for researchers to understand the reason behind the unique structure. The new footage however provides new insights into the purpose of the Narwhal’s iconic tusk.

“Narwhal are one of the most magical creatures on our planet. So it's no surprise that they have gained an almost mythical status as the "unicorns of the sea,” said Rod Downie, Head of Polar Program at WWF.

“But they are real and they are one of the species that are most vulnerable to climate change. We are witnessing a rapid and unprecedented loss of sea ice in their Arctic home. That is why we are working with our partners to track narwhal movements so that we can identify critical habitat that needs to be protected for future generations.”

WWF Canada alongside Fisheries and Oceans Canada used drone technology to track Narwhals in the waters of Tremblay Sound in Nunavut. This is the first time that drones have been utilized to study the mysterious Arctic mammal. The discovery is also significant for narwhal conversation. Only around 110,000 narwhals are now left in the wild and persistent melting of Arctic ice could lead to further drop in their population.

'This footage, while also stunning to watch, will play a significant role in the future of narwhal conservation. As the Arctic warms and development pressure increases, it will be important to understand how narwhal are using their habitat during their annual migration,” said David Miller, President and CEO for WWF-Canada.

“With this information in hand, we can work to minimize the effects of human activities on narwhal.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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