In This Beluga Pod, One Does Not Belong

Narwhal gains new family in St. Lawrence River
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2018 9:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – The video appears to show a pod of young belugas splashing playfully in Canada's St. Lawrence River. But then a speckled body breaks the water's surface, standing out among the bright white whales. The narwhal, swimming more than 600 miles south of its usual Arctic homeland, "behaves like it was one of the boys," says Robert Michaud, president of the nonprofit Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, which recorded the surprising footage in July. First spotted blowing bubbles with belugas in July 2016, the St. Lawrence narwhal with a 1.5-foot-long tusk, thought to be a juvenile male, appears to have been fully adopted by his distant cousins. The whales interact with the narwhal just as they would with their own kind, Michaud tells the CBC: "They are in constant contact with each other."

With a knack for living in icy water, narwhals usually hunt deep-water fish, while belugas prefer shallow, coastal waters where salmon and capelin stay close to the surface. But females of both species experience menopause, which Forbes recently reported is "highly unusual" in the animal kingdom. Narwhals and belugas are also very social, and similarly communicate via chirps and clicks, per the CBC. Noting an Inuit legend tells of a narwhal among belugas, which have also been seen in narwhal pods, Harvard researcher Martin Nweeia adds the animals are probably capable of caring and compassion "to welcome another member that may not look or act the same." According to GREMM, the animals "might find themselves in one another's company more and more frequently" as climate change continues to take a toll on the Arctic.

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