Video Reveals Clue to World's Most Mysterious Whales
Footage captured by aerial drones as part of a narwhal research camp in Tremblay Sound, Nunavut, is giving biologists new insights into the behavior of one of the world's most mysterious whales.
Narwhals have a long tusk, which is actually a canine tooth that spirals counterclockwise up to nine feet forward from the head of adult males, and a small percentage of females. In the footage, a narwhal can be seen using quick taps of its tusk to stun Arctic cod, rendering them immobile and thus easier to capture and eat.
The footage is significant, both for partially unravelling the mystery of the narwhal tusk and because it shows that narwhals feed on their summering grounds. This helps researchers determine which areas are key narwhal habitat, and need to be considered for protection as the range of the narwhal faces increasing pressure from industrial development.
What we know (and don't know) about narwhal:
• The volume of research is very small compared to other whales, because narwhals live in remote locations that are difficult to access.
• Scientists know even less about the evolution of the narwhal tusk, which is actually a tooth, though it likely serves more than one purpose. Over the years, theories have included that it is an ice pick, a weapon to win a mate and a tool for echolocation.
• Recent research suggests that the tusk has thousands of nerve endings, as well as pores that allow narwhals to sense the environment around them.
• Every summer, the nutrient-rich waters of Canada's Lancaster Sound host more than 80,000 narwhals, three quarters of the world's population.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, with support from WWF-Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, and the Pond Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization, will continue research this year on narwhal behavior and movements in the Eclipse Sound. Additional research through WWF-Canada's Arctic Species Conservation Fund will seek to identify important narwhal calf rearing habitat in the region.
"This footage, while also stunning to watch, will play a significant role in the future of narwhal conservation," David Miller, president and CEO for WWF-Canada, said.
"As the Arctic warms and development pressure increases, it will be important to understand how narwhal are using their habitat during their annual migration. With this information in hand, we can work to minimize the effects of human activities on narwhal," Miller continued.
"More research needs to be conducted to determine how they behave across their range, including the identification of calving and rearing areas. WWF-Canada is looking forward to partnering with Fisheries and Oceans Canada again this year on narwhal research in order to further our understanding of these mysterious animals."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
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The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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