For the past three years a lone narwhal has been spotted over 600 miles (1000km) away from his usual home in the Arctic. But its not only his distance from his habitat that is capturing the interest of scientists. It’s that he’s been adopted by a band of beluga whales.
The narwhal, who appears to be a young male because of his tusk, was filmed hanging out in the St. Lawrence River with a pod of young belugas, thought to be mostly or all males.
“It behaves like it was one of the boys,” Robert Michaud, president and scientific director of Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), a nonprofit research organization, told CBC News.
The narwhale and belugas were filmed by drone playing with each other.
“They are in constant contact with each other. It’s a like a big social ball of young juveniles that are playing some social, sexual games,” said Michaud.
Although beluga whales and narwhals are closely related (they belong to the same cetacean family, the Monodontidae), they are pretty different. Narwhals dive deep for fish and are comfortable in areas covered in dense ice. Belugas prefer warmer, shallower water and fish more towards the surface.
But perhaps they have more in common than we know. Both species are incredibly social and both are facing similar threats with habitat loss and climate change.
Martin Nweeia, a researcher at Harvard University, said his research team has observed belugas swimming among narwhals and that there are Inuit legends that describe a narwhal among belugas.
In the case of this narwhal, his interactions are the same as those between belugas, indicating he has been accepted.
“I think it shows…the compassion and the openness of other species to welcome another member that may not look or act the same,” Nweeia said. “And maybe that’s a good lesson for everyone.”