Scientists monitoring whales in Canada’s St. Lawrence River have noticed something peculiar about a group of young belugas – one of them isn’t a beluga at all.
The St. Lawrence belugas appear to have adopted a stray narwhal, who was spotted swimming with a group of at least 10 other whales in drone footage captured in August.
While narwhals typically spend their lives in cold Arctic waters, this individual has, for some reason, ventured further south.
And, researchers say he seems right at home with his new family.
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The St. Lawrence belugas appear to have adopted a stray narwhal, who was spotted swimming with a group of at least 10 other whales in drone footage captured in August. The narwhal can be seen as the dark, speckled whale just above the center of the image
According to the researchers with the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), this isn’t even the first time they’ve spotted the lost narwhal with his beluga companions.
The male narwhal was seen back in 2016 and 2017, too. With a dark, speckled coloration and a massive tusk protruding from his head, he sticks out like a sore thumb among the pale beluga whales.
But, that hasn’t stopped this group from taking him in as one of their own.
‘The drone sequence that we collected showed a narwhal that seems to be at home with the St. Lawrence belugas,’ the researchers wrote in a blog post.
‘We observe it in a group of about ten young males in the midst of socializing.’
Footage of the sighting shows roughly a dozen white beluga whales swimming in the St. Lawrence River.
As they get closer to the surface, it becomes instantly clear that one is not like the rest.
The whales swim playfully together, forming a closely packed group and bumping up against one another.
The male narwhal was seen back in 2016 and 2017, too. With a dark, speckled coloration and a massive tusk protruding from his head, he sticks out like a sore thumb among the pale beluga whales. But, that hasn’t stopped this group from taking him in as one of their own
NARWHALS AND BELUGA WHALES GO THROUGH MENOPAUSE, TOO
Beluga whales and narwhals go through menopause ‘just like humans’, scientists have discovered.
They suggest the trait, which is extremely rare in the animal kingdom, helps cut down competition for food within family groups.
Most species in the wild continue reproducing until they die, but the latest finding means a total of five species are now known to stop reproducing during their lifetime.
Alongside humans, killer whales and short-finned pilot whales were the only other species previously known to experience the menopause.
Understanding how whales evolved the trait may shine light on why our early ancestors developed it themselves.
Researchers from the University of Exeter, University of York and US Center for Whale Research conducted the new study.
It might seem unusual, but as rising temperatures increasingly push species into new environments, the researcher say it could soon become more common.
‘Due to the climate change being observed in the Arctic, there is a chance that these two related species (the beluga and narwhal belong to the same family: Monodontidae) might find themselves in one another’s company more and more frequently in the decades to come,’ the GREMM researchers wrote.
‘We already see this phenomenon in other species such as the polar bear and the grizzly, which have even been observed to interbreed.
‘Might we someday observe a narwhal-beluga hybrid in the St. Lawrence?’