Inuit have long attested that narwhal also use their tusk to tap and stun fish before eating them and recent video footage has verified that knowledge in a first for western science.
A NARWHAL ABOUT TO STUN A FISH WITH ITS TUSK.
Arctic expedition videographer Adam Ravetch captured the footage of narwhal stunning and feeding on Arctic Char with the help of an aerial drone camera on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund Canada expedition.
“As soon as they saw the playback on the small screen, they knew something interesting was happening and definitely needed to be checked out further,” said Brandon Laforest, a senior specialist in Arctic species and ecosystems for WWF-Canada. Upon further reviewing the footage below, scientists were able to verifiably confirm that narwhals do indeed also use their tusks as a fish stunner, oftentimes idly swimming through a school of char and lightly bopping the fish with their 3 meter long tooth before swimming up to and eating the fish.
Narwhal primarily live in Baffin Bay – a large body of water between Greenland and northern Canada in the Arctic – where they seasonally migrate from the south in the winter to the northern reaches of the Arctic in the summer. The elusive and rare whales are often difficult to study given the remote region that they live in. But a number of studies have been mounted over the past couple of decades to decode the mysteries of this anomalous species.
Dr. Martin Nweeia, Harvard Professor of Dentistry and fellow of The Explorer’s Club and The Smithsonian Institute, has been studying the fascinating tooth for almost two decades during numerous Arctic Expeditions involving live capture of narwhals. His theory, and experiments attest, is that the tooth is also a sensory organ as it has millions of tiny holes that allow the animal to ‘see’ the chemical components of the water, as well as the temperature, allowing them to navigate in the cold, dark waters of the Arctic.
The tooth has hundreds of thousands of receptors that lead to the center of the tooth and nerve fibers that feed directly into their brain just above their auditory cortex. The theory is that they can ‘sense’ the salinity and temperature of the water allowing them to navigate from the sea floor, narwhals are the second deepest diving whales, back up to holes in the ice, called polynyas, allowing them to breath.
Dr. Nweeia is giving a talk on the characteristics of the narwhal’s tooth on May 31st at 6pm at The Explorer’s Club in Manhattan along with Dr. Christopher Clark, marine bioacoustics expert and star of the National Resource Defense Council’s Sonic Sea, after a screening of The Narwhal’s Wake, a feature documentary film currently in production. The film focuses on narwhals and the dangers they are facing from Arctic oil exploration that uses seismic cannons to map the subseafloor for hydrocarbons. These cannons emit the second loudest man-made noise, only after the detonation of an atomic bomb, at 160 decibels every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for the next five years as Baffin Bay is fully mapped. For more information, and to attend the screening and talks, go to The Explorer’s Club listing of the event.
These new discoveries are thanks to Inuit concerns regarding the future of the species and working in conjunction with western scientists to learn more about the migration patterns, social behaviors, and physiological makeup of these rare whales, often referred to as, ‘the unicorns of the sea.’
If you’re in New York City this week don’t miss this chance to have more mysteries of the narwhal revealed.