Drone footage has revealed one of the ways narwhals use their tusks. The footage showed them being used as a weapon to slap and stun Arctic cod while hunting. Narwhals, a species of whales, are notorious for being skittish and the mystery behind what uses they put their unicorn-like tusks to has been the subject of much speculation. Now, the footage taken by two drones appears to have solved the secret of at least one of the uses that they have for their tusks.
National Geographic reported that narwhals hunt Arctic cod, one of their favorite foods, using their tusks. The footage taken by the drones shows that narwhals do not stab the cod, but hit them, stunning the fish long enough to suck them up into their mouths and eat them.
The drones that filmed the narwhals in action was shot in Canada, in Tremblay Sound, Nunavat. The footage was taken by cameras on drones operated by Adam Revetch, on behalf of both researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and also “for the World Wildlife Fund Canada.”
The remoteness of where narwhals live, and the fact that they do not leap out of the water like whales and porpoises, has also made documenting their behavior and how they use their tusks a challenge. Neighboring Lancaster Sound is the home of more than three-fourths of the entire world’s narwhal population.
The single spiraling tusk that protrudes through the upper lips of narwhals is the left canine tooth of the marine animals. The Daily Mail reported that the tusks “form a left-handed helix.” According to the newspaper, the tusks are also “hollow.” Because of this, they are relatively light, weighing just “around 10 kg (22 lb).”
The tusk can grow to be eight to almost nine feet long. The right canine tooth of narwhals remains in the animals’ heads.
San Francisco Chronicle reported that female narwhals also grow a single tusk, but theirs are smaller. Another use the tusks of male narwhals might have is in the ritual involving mating, possibly to fight off and intimidate rival males and for display purposes, to impress female narwhals.
Since the tusks of narwhals are covered with pores and nerve endings, it is likely that they use their tusks to help them sense the world around them. The tusks could also be used for purposes ranging from ice picks to echolocation tools.
The tusks of narwhals are “the largest canines” of any animal. Some male narwhals, approximately 1 in 500 of them, have two tusks growing through their upper lips. Generally, the right one is not as long nor as straight.
The researchers involved in studying the elusive narwhals now would like to learn more about other aspects of their lives, like locating where they calve. Once those areas are found, efforts can be undertaken to protect them from pollution and creating shipping routes that would cause the least potential damage to them.
At least one of the secrets of what narwhals use their tusks for was solved by footage filmed by cameras in two drones. They use their tusks to slap and stun prey like Arctic cod, and then the narwhals quickly suction up the immobilized fish into the mouths and consume them. Researchers from WWF Canada used the two drones to film footage of the elusive narwhals, finally capturing on film that one of the uses the marine animals have for their tusks is as a weapon to stun prey. One of the many secrets of narwhals has ben revealed, but the researchers know that many more secrets remain for them to solve.
By John Samuels
Photo Courtesy YouTube