Video captures use of narwhal’s singular tusk

narwhal breaking through surface icePhoto © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada

University of Windsor researchers are among a team of scientists that have captured the mysterious narwhal on video using its tusk to stun a fish before feasting.

According to World Wildlife Fund Canada, the purpose of a narwhal’s tusk has been subject to speculation by scientists and there has been no definitive recorded scientific evidence of its use.

Two drones flying over the ocean in Tremblay Sound, Nunavut, captured footage no scientists had ever seen before — narwhals using their long tusks to stun Arctic cod by hitting them.

“Documenting such novel behavior of a complex and difficult to study species that inhabits such a challenging environment is absolutely incredible,” said University of Windsor professor Nigel Hussey in a statement. “These data prove the value of direct observation to understand animal behavior and ecology, but also highlight the important role of technology in modern science.”

Dr. Hussey said combining observations of animal behaviour from traditional knowledge, unmanned vehicles and statistical modelling of tracking data provides researchers with a comprehensive toolbox to better manage the iconic aquatic species.

While scientists believe the primary function of the tusk is likely related to sexual selection, the World Wildlife Fund Canada says this discovery provides new insights into the function of the tusk and raises new questions about the species.

The innovative video was captured by Canadian scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the University of Windsor, World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium and videographers from Arctic Bear Productions.

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