It seems that we know much less than more about the mysterious narwhal. But that seems to be changing with new research and aerial, footage that sheds light on their hunting behavior. So to learn more here’s a bit of Narwhal News!
The most distinctive feature of the narwhal is its long tusk (which is actually a canine tooth) that can reach up to 10 feet on an adult male. Considering that the same adult male’s body may reach 18 feet in length (about the same size as a Beluga whale) the outsized tusk may appear ungainly. (photo – Glen Williams,NIST)
Historically Narwhal tusks were highly prized and were first hunted by Vikings who sold a tusk for many times its weight in gold to those that thought they had magical powers. Tusks were also carved into drinking cups that were thought to neutralize poison and cure melancholia. Some in medieval Europe believed that the tusk was from the legendary unicorn.
But what does the narwhal use it’s tusk for?
Speculation on the use of a narwhal tusk has been around for centuries. Is it used to poke holes in ice; used in courtship or does it indicate social rank? One thing that is obvious is that the tusk looks like a weapon so is it used to hunt?
Now a new video, (see sciencealert) captured by drones in Trembley Sound, Nunavat, in northeastern Canada offers insights into how the narwhal really uses his tusk. The video shows the narwhal using his tusk to rap an arctic cod, stunning it and making it easier to capture and eat.
“This is an entirely new observation of how the tusk is used,” said Brandon Laforest, with WWF-Canada.
Plus the Narwhal’s tusk allows it to see like no other species!
Like whales and dolphins, Narwhals can navigate in dark, murky waters by producing clicking sounds and using the echoes off surfaces and prey to map their surroundings. Recent research has indicated that the tusk contains millions of nerve endings making it sensitive to the tiniest of stimuli and a fantastic echolocator.
This latest research helps to unwind the mystery surrounding Narwhal’s habits and habitats and is necessary in telling us what the narwhal feeds on and what areas are narwhal habitat. Habitats that might need protection to give the dwindling population of narwhals a chance to survive.
See these related Blue Ocean posts on whales:
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