Belugas Caring for Another Species

A lone vagrant narwhal with his new family. Photo courtesy GREMM

A lone vagrant narwhal with his new family. Photo courtesy GREMM

Narwhals are medium-sized toothed whales that live year-round in the icy Arctic waters around Greenland, Canada, and Russia. They’re easily identified by their long, straight husk which is actually an elongated upper canine. Even though they can live up to 50 years, they often die from suffocation when the waters freeze over. Starvation and being eaten by orcas is another cause of death.

The big news making the rounds this week is that a narwhal was spotted hanging out with its cousin, the beluga whale, in the St. Lawrence River – a whopping thousand kilometers away from home! It’s just one narwhal and scientists say that it appears it has been adopted by a pod of belugas. The young male narwhal is on its own in the Canadian river as far as others of its own species go. It’s the third time it was spotted in the waters due to its unique markings by the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) which is a non-profit group dedicated to whale research, conservation, and education out of Tadoussac, Quebec. Watch the beautiful drone footage here.

Scientists say it’s not unusual for young male whales to wander into strange waters. Who knows why this guy decided to swim so far, though. However, he was lucky to find buddies close to his own species as many young male whales end up making friends with boats and humans and that never ends well.

Even though belugas and narwhals are closely related, they are still quite a bit different. Narwhals hunt fish in the depths of the ocean and like their icy waters while belugas prefer coastal and shallow waters as well as meals that swim close to the surface.

According to an Inuit legend, there is a narwhal that exists among belugas; a woman hunting beluga whales falls into the ocean, her hair twisting into a narwhal horn. A researcher at Harvard University who has been studying narwhals for two decades, believes that both species are capable of caring and compassion.

“I don’t think it should surprise people,” said Martin Nweeia to the CBC. “I think it shows… the compassion and the openness of other species to welcome another member that may not look or act the same. And maybe that’s a good lesson for everyone.”