Scientists capture narwhal whale sounds

Hyperaxion May 27, 2020

The recording will help researchers understand the behavior of these animals, nicknamed “unicorn of the sea”.

Geophysicists from the Hokkaido University, Japan, captured something rarely heard: the sounds emitted by narwhals, a species of whale known for its tusk – which earned it the nickname “unicorn of the sea”. With the help of Inuit hunters, the researchers recorded calls, buzzes, clicks, and whistles that provide information about the behavior of these timid and mysterious creatures.

Scientists capture narwhal whale sounds
The narwhals. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

In general, these animals are difficult to study as they spend most of their time at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. In addition, researchers often have trouble approaching them, as narwhals are very nervous and tend to swim away when approached by motorboats. Luckily, the Inuit, indigenous Eskimos living in the Arctic, are familiar with the whales and are able to approach without disturbing them.

The research, carried out in Greenland, began in July 2019, when scientists followed several hunting expeditions to study narwhals. Using underwater microphones attached to small boats, scientists captured social calls and sounds of exploration that have a range of 25 meters.

These recordings provide a basis for the types of sounds that permeate the primitive habitat of the narwhals. The researchers realized that the animals are closer to the ice of the glaciers than previously thought and, contrary to what they imagined, the narwhals do look for food in the summer.

Another discovery related to the feeding habits of these animals was that the closer they get to the food, the faster they “click” – and this sound, similar to that of a chainsaw, helps the narwhals to identify the location of their prey.

Inuit researchers and hunters team up to study narwhal whales (Credit: AGU).

The study was published on Tuesday (26), in the scientific journal of the association Advancing Earth and Space Science (AGU), the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, by geophysicists Evgeny Podolskiy and Shin Sugiyama.

Listen to the sounds of the narwhals below:

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