• Sofia Eugeniou

Rare sounds of the narwhal recently recorded

Updated: Jul 9, 2020


Image credit: World Wildlife Fund

With the help of Inuit Hunters, geophysicists from the American Geophysical Union recently recorded the various calls, buzzes, clicks and whistles of narwhals as they spent their summer in a Greenland fjord.


Narwhals are notoriously difficult to study because of their shy and skittish nature and spend most of their time deep in the freezing Arctic Ocean.


With a tendency to summer in glacial fjords around Greenland and Canada, scientists still struggle to get close enough to study these creatures. This is particularly due to glacial fronts being dangerous and hard to access, as well as the animals swimming off when approached by motorized boats.

Image credit: Busbud

The recordings of the narwhals will help scientists better understand the soundscape of Arctic glacial fjords and provide valuable insight into the behaviour of these animals, which are often dubbed the 'unicorns of the sea'.


The research was carried out through the use of underwater microphones attached to small boats.


The research team, and the Inuit hunters, were able to capture narwhal social calls and foraging sounds, getting as close as 25 meters to the Arctic animals.


Clicks for echolocation, the biological sonar used by dolphins, bats and some other animals, was also captured. Narwhals use clicks to navigate the vast expanse of the watery world they live in and to find food.


Interesting findings include the narwhals clicking faster when they get to their food. The noise becomes buzz-like, similar to that of a chainsaw.


While it is not endangered, the narwhal is considered "near threatened' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.


Narwhals are at the top of the food chain and play an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Narwhals are also culturally significant to Indigenous communities in the Arctic.


The importance of the narwhal thus makes research, such as that carried out by the American Geophysical Union, extremely important as it serves to better understand these majestic creatures and ultimately, keep them better protected from future threats.

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