SAFS in the News: Narwhals, Tusked Whales of the Arctic, See With Sound. Really Well.

SAFS professor Kristin Laidre is featured in the New York Times:

‘The narwhal is not an aquatic unicorn. It’s not magical, or mythical. It’s just a whale with two teeth, one of which happens to be really long on males. But it’s not just its snaggletooth — which can be up to nine feet long — that makes this Arctic sea creature unbelievable. The narwhal sees with sound — and it’s exceptionally good at it too, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

Like any whale, the narwhal needs to surface to breathe — on average, every four to six minutes. But unlike most whales, narwhals spend all of their lives in extreme Arctic conditions, primarily in waters off Eastern Canada and Greenland, where there’s more darkness than light, and more ice than open sea. Somehow, this blubbery bundle finds its way to cracks in the ice to breathe. Somehow, it can also hunt for squid and dive down more than a mile into pitch black water to capture fish and other prey.

“You don’t see open water for miles and miles and suddenly there’s a small crack, and you’ll see narwhals in it,” said Kristin Laidre, an ecologist at the University of Washington who led the study. “I’ve always wondered how do these animals navigate under that, and how do they find these small openings to breathe?”’

Article and excerpt by Joanna Klein

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