As the owner of a narwhal long tusk, I was fascinated to read that the mystery of why the narwhal has a long tusk may have been solved after one was filmed using it to catch cod. The elusive Arctic whale has been described as the ‘unicorn of the sea’ because of its spiral tusk which can grow up to nine feet long in adult males. To me it is a beautiful object, a powerful memento of a great whale that roams the Arctic waters and can easily be classed as an art object.
Charles Darwin thought that it was used to attract mates. A study in 2014 claimed that it was a sensory organ and that its thousands of nerve endings were used to measure the water’s salinity to help it navigate and find food. Other theories include it being an ice pick, a weapon used to compete for a mate and a tool for sonar.
Although the tusk is likely to have multiple purposes, footage from Canada shows definitely that one function is as a fishing tool. A drone filmed a narwhal using quick taps of its tusk to stun Arctic cod, rendering them easier to capture and eat.
The drone was used by scientists investigating narwhal behaviour in Tremblay Sound Nunavut, Canada. Less is known about narwhals than other whales because they live only in the Arctic and observing them is tricky.
WWF, the conservation charity conducting the research with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said the footage was also significant because it showed the area was a narwhal feeding ground that needed to be protected.
The narwhal is classified as near-threated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only about 80,000 are left.
The loss of Arctic ice through global warming is exposing narwhals to greater risk of attack by killer whales which are venturing north into the territory, according to Rod Downie, WWF’s head of polar programmes. He said that narwhals were also threated by industrial developments including increased risk of being hit by a ship as melting ice allowed more routes to open, and noise disturbance from seismic surveys by the oil industry.
‘Narwhals are one of the most magical creatures but they are one of the species that are most vulnerable to climate change. We are witnessing a rapid loss of sea ice in their Arctic home. That’s why we are working with our partners to track narwhal movements so that we can identity critical habitats that need to be protected.’
Many scientists believe that the Arctic will be almost free of sea ice by 2040. What a disaster that would be. My narwhal tusk is so majestic that the mere thought of the extinction of the narwhal would grieve me no end. We must therefore do everything we can to protect it.