Thursday 19 October 2017

We now know why narwhals have tusks

All thanks to the first-of-its-kind footage taken by a group of Canadian scientists.

By Nilima Marshall

Narwhals use their tusks to stun and eat fish – and for the first time, there is video evidence to prove it.

Footage filmed on a drone by Canadian scientists show the mammals using their long tusks to catch smaller fish.

The behaviour finally addresses a question scientists have been asking for a long time – why do these whales have a tooth that protrudes from the head and extends over three metres?

One of the reasons researchers haven’t been able to find the answer is because narwhals are generally elusive and hard to spot.

The first-of-its-kind footage was the result of a group effort from scientists at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the University of Windsor, the World WildLife Fund (WWF) Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium and Arctic Bear Productions.

“Documenting such novel behaviour of a complex and difficult to study species that inhabits such a challenging environment is absolutely incredible,” said Dr Nigel Hussey, of the University of Windsor.

“These data prove the value of direct observation to understand animal behaviour and ecology, but also highlight the important role of technology in modern science.

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“Uniting observations of animal behaviour from traditional knowledge, unmanned vehicles and statistical modelling of tracking data, now provide a comprehensive toolbox to better manage these iconic aquatic species.”

According to WWF, ongoing research indicates that the tusk has sensory capability, housing up to 10 million nerve endings inside.

Previous research has suggested narwhals use their tusks for echolocation – the use of sound waves and echoes to determine where objects or living beings are.

Narwhals live in the Arctic waters in Nunavut, west Greenland and the European Arctic.

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