For the first time, narwhals have been caught on video using their tusks to hit and stun their prey before eating them.
The video confirms just one popular theory on the use of the tusk, which is actually a large, narrow tooth. Research has suggested that appendage is a sensory organ, and that it could be used in sexual selection.
In collaboration with the community of Pond Inlet and benefiting from Inuit Traditional Knowledge, this first-of-its kind footage was captured by Canadian scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the University of Windsor, World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, and by Arctic Bear Productions.
There is a wealth of Inuit Traditional Knowledge and scientific theory about the uses of the Narwhal’s tusk, but prior to this there has been no definitive recorded scientific evidence of its use. While the scientists believe the primary function of the tusk is probably related to sexual selection, this provides new insights into the function of the tusk, raises new, interesting questions about the species, and opens new avenues of research into these iconic marine mammals.
“This is exciting research that demonstrates Canada’s leadership in Arctic marine science. The Narwhal is an iconic and culturally-significant species in the North, and this newly documented feeding behaviour will open up new insights on how we best protect the species for future generations. It serves as a concrete example of how we are advancing marine science.”
The video footage was captured during another DFO pilot project, which was using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) to study Narwhal behaviour on their summering ground in Tremblay Sound, NU. This research also underlines the potential of UAVs for making scientific advances in observing and understanding wild animals.