New footage reveals how narwhals use their tusks

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The exact function of a narwhal’s tusk has long been speculated by scientists. It is a mainly male feature, but a small minority of females have one and very rarely a male will grow two tusks. The narwhal’s tusk is actually a large canine tooth that spirals out from the jaw and can grow up to 2.6 metres in length. Predominately found in males, it is widely accepted that the tusk’s primary function is for sexual selection with the tusk determining social rank and therefore causing the males to compete for access to females.

A number of theories have emerged regarding other uses such as for ice picks, weapons, navigation, spearing fish and a 2014 study concluded that the tusk is a highly sensitive sensory organ. Recent drone footage has confirmed one particular theory of how the whales use their tusks, which has helped unravel some of the mystery behind the elusive species.

The footage was captured by two drones in Tremblay Sound, Nunavat, in northeastern Canada and revealed the tusks are used as a hunting tool to stun Arctic cod. This behaviour briefly immobilises the fish and therefore makes them easier to prey upon. This is the first documentation of narwhals using their tusk for a specific purpose. However, it is important to note that the behaviour has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal at this stage. Regardless, this latest discovery, opens up even more possibilities about its value to the species and reveals the need of further research in the marine mammal world.

 

 

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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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