Lost Narwhal Gets Adopted By Friendly Beluga Whales

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Researchers observed a narwhal in a group of young belugas using drone images. GREMM/YouTube

See if you can find the odd one out!

Researchers observed a narwhal in a group of young belugas using drone images. GREMM/YouTube

Things weren’t looking bright for this young narwhal, who was lost at sea thousands of kilometres from home. Fortunately, owing to his new friends, a local gang of beluga whales who adopted him, the wandering juvenile is doing just well.

What evidence do we have? When a study crew was filming a bunch of beluga whales, they came across a narwhal! Following their initial enthusiasm, their first query was whether it was the same person they had seen in 2016 and 2017. To find out, they landed their drone and snapped a couple photos using their camera.

The photos taken from the sides confirmed it was the same narwhal seen with the belugas years ago. GREMM/YouTube

The study team was able to confirm that the vagabond and his friends were the same narwhal after photographing them from both sides.

The Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) discovered the unusual pod in the waters of the St Lawrence River near Quebec.

GREMM researchers visit the river and its estuary every year to count and photograph beluga whale pods. They were surprised to see an uncommon addition to the gang: a young narwhal, who lived 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of the Arctic area where narwhals normally live. Despite their evident differences, the lost narwhal appears to have been adopted by the belugas, who peacefully live alongside them.

The narwhal in the video below can be recognized by its speckled gray colour and long tusk.

“It behaves like it was one of the boys,” Robert Michaud, GREMM’s president and scientific director, told CBC News.

Because beluga whales, let alone narwhals, are generally located in the frigid seas of the Arctic, sighting them in the St Lawrence River is rather unusual. However, roughly 120 beluga whales dwell in the area, forming a small population that does not move as far as others. What about the narwhal, though?

Martin Nweeia, a Harvard University scholar and narwhal expert, remarked, “I don’t think that should surprise anybody.” “I believe it demonstrates… other species’ compassion and openness to welcome a new member who may not appear or act like them. And perhaps that is a valuable lesson for everyone.”

Despite the fact that the two species appear to be rather dissimilar at first appearance, they are the only two members of the Cetacean family Monodontidae. Both are gregarious marine mammals, while narwhals prefer to congregate in deep seas covered in a thick covering of ice.

“Due to the climate change being observed in the Arctic, there is a chance that these two related species… might find themselves in one another’s company more and more frequently in the decades to come,” GREMM said in a blog post.

A reconstruction of the narluga by MARKUS BÜHLER

Indeed, according to The Atlantic, several unusual hybrid whales that appeared to be the offspring of a narwhal and a beluga have been spotted in the past. They have a name, too: narluga.

Although DNA testing was never done, a scientific research in 1993 revealed the skull of an apparent hybrid between a narwhal and a beluga whale.

“Other species, such as the polar bear and the grizzly bear, have been observed to interbreed.”

So there’s enough of evidence that narwhals and balugas have had close encounters in the past. A tidbit of information that adds to the beauty of the adopted narwhal’s narrative.

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