Today’s Solutions: November 29, 2021

Narwhals, the so-called unicorns of the sea, may be among the most recognizable marine animals, but they are also notoriously difficult to study due to their skittish nature and uncongenial habits. These characteristics, plus the fact that they live in one of the noisiest environments in the ocean, have made it also very difficult for researchers to study their sounds, that is up until now.

Marine biologists, with the help of Inuit whalers, have recently assembled an unprecedented collection of narwhal vocalizations, offering fresh insights into the behaviors of these near-mythical creatures.

Normally, narwhals are found deep below the Arctic Ocean surface, but they summer off the coasts of northern Canada and Greenland. For the marine biologists who wish to study these creatures, this presents a bit of a problem, as narwhals tend to loiter around dangerous glacial fjords, and are easily drawn away by the sounds of motorboats.

This is a shame, because vocalizations are an effective way to study these and other marine mammals. Also, as narwhals are highly susceptible to climate change, it’s ever more important to document their sounds now and create a baseline description of them.

To that end, two researchers from Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, set out on an expedition in July 2019 to record narwhals summering in Arctic glacial fjords in northwest Greenland. Additionally, to ensure that they get close to the narwhals without frightening them, they tapped into the knowledge of a group of Inuit whalers who accompanied them.

The whalers managed to spot the narwhals in time to shut down the engines and avoid spooking them. Then, moving off in a kayak, they managed to get as close as 25 meters from the animals, enabling them to start recording the narwhals without trouble.

The various calls, buzzing noises, clicks, and whistles provided the researchers with a baseline for the types of sounds made by narwhals in this particular environment. Roughly 17 hours of recordings were collected during the expedition. These recordings are already contributing to our understanding of these remarkable creatures.

In addition to social calls, which sounded like pulsed-tones and whistles, the researchers were able to identify narwhal foraging sounds, namely their echolocation clicks. This showed that narwhals forage for food in their summer habitat, which wasn’t obvious before.

If you wish to hear the curious sounds of these fascinating animals, look no further.

Solutions News Source Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

Italian garden installation shows us how much CO2 trees store

Trees are the lungs of our planet—we know that trees are needed because they sequester dangerous CO2 emissions, but do we really know how much we depend on them to clean the air we breathe? ... Read More

Go Cubs: The inspiring story of California’s undefeated deaf football team

The California School for the Deaf in Riverside had never won a division championship football game in its 68-year history, but that all changed this year when the team not only won a championship game ... Read More

New biomarker for Alzheimer’s discovered

Alzheimer’s is a complex neurological disease, with scientists still trying to piece together the complete puzzle of factors that contribute to its development. A number of different genetic and environmental risks have been determined─though more ... Read More

Bread and Roses uses floristry to empower refugee women in London

Rebuilding a life in a foreign country as a refugee is not an easy task. This is especially true for women, who often face more barriers than men as they are less likely to have ... Read More

Study: Schools of fish operate like a superorganism

The world under the waves is still a mystery, with 95 percent of oceans yet to be explored. Scientists are always uncovering many new and exciting aspects of this ecosystem; from the importance of fish ... Read More

New biodegradable glitter lets you sparkle guilt-free

As sparkly and magical as it is, glitter is actually a form of microplastic, and even products that claim to contain biodegradable glitter rarely actually are. This is a difficult issue to tackle because countries ... Read More