Narwhal spear Arctic cod with tusk: new footage

Never-seen-before footage of the narwhal has revealed an aspect of their physiology which has caused much debate: the “horn” protruding from their heads.

Footage captured by two drones in Tremblay Sound, Nunavat, in north-east Canada found the tusks are used to stun Arctic cod by ramming into them. This behaviour immobilises the fish, making them easier to prey upon.

“What’s very exciting to me is what else can they do with their tusks?” says DFO team member Marianne Marcoux.

The narwhal tusk is a tooth. The video was released by WWF Canada.

Brandon Laforest, senior specialist of Arctic species and ecosystems with WWF-Canada, told National Geographic that witnessing narwhal feeding habits has been almost impossible without the drones.

Like dolphins and other whales, they’re able to navigate dark, murky waters by producing clicking sounds at a rate of up to 1,000 clicks per second, and using the echoes to reconstruct their surroundings based on how the sound waves bounce off nearby prey or rock formations.

But this is the first time we’ve ever seen the mysterious narwhal tusk being used for hunting, which could be the final piece of the puzzle for this freaky oddity of evolution. Because of the remote regions in which narwhals live, visual confirmation of their behaviour has been hard to ascertain.

The mystery of these “horns” – which can grow up to 2.7 metres (9 feet) long – has led scientists to pose a number of possible functions, including signals of testicle size, navigation, and territorial battles. A majority of the narwhals live in Canada’s Lancaster Sound, which the government is looking marking as a protected area. Some believe that these tusks act like sensors that allow the whales to detect changes in water pressure, temperature and salinity while other suggest that narwhale use their tusks to make holes in sea ice to determine its thickness. Laforest, however, thinks they may be especially important as sensory organs.

Narwhals have a long tusk-a tooth that spirals counterclockwise from the head of adult males and a small percentage of females.

Of 16 potential teeth in the narwhal, 12 are genetically silenced at birth-teeth that could be used to chomp fish. The discovery is also significant for narwhal conversation.

The clip was captured by scientists with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the University of Windsor, World Wildlife Fund, the Vancouver Aquarium and Arctic Bear Productions during a field project last summer.

Knowing the key regions where the animals rely on for food and calving may help conservationists protect these environments and the animals’ migratory routes.

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