Scientists Making Efforts to Track Mythical Narwhals


Artwork by Else Bostelmann


The long and spiraling tusk that grows from the center of the narwhal’s forehead has helped make that animal the subject of sailors’ lore and earned it the nickname “unicorn of the sea.”  That nickname may be even more fitting given the narwhal’s almost mythical elusiveness.  For a long time, very little has been known about the medium-sized whale that calls the inhospitable waters of the Arctic home.

Now efforts are underway to find out more.  In August, scientists working for WWF-Canada captured nine of the 3,500-pound whales and fitted them with instruments to track their locations.  The devices, which are about the size of a Blackberry, are attached to a radio transmitter that emits signals when the narwhals surface.  So far, 7 of the 9 transmitters are still functional, and they are allowing scientists to track the whales’ paths as they make their way out of Tremblay Sound and into the Baffin Bay.

The hope is that information gleaned from this small sample will provide more information about the estimated 50,000-80,000 narwhals alive today and will allow government and environmental agencies to better protect them.  WWF is posting the locations on a map that can be viewed on their site.

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