Stranded miles and miles away from home, things weren’t looking too good for this lost juvenile narwhal. Fortunately, the wandering youngster is doing just fine thanks to his new pals, a local gang of beluga whales.
The unlikely pod was spotted in the waters of the St. Lawrence River near the province of Quebec by the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) back in July.
Each year, GREMM researchers head to the river and its estuary to count and photo-ID the pods of beluga whales. Much to their surprise, they noticed a strange addition to the gang: a young narwhal, some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of its usual Arctic range. By all appearances, the lost narwhal has been adopted by the belugas, happily living alongside them, despite their obvious differences.
You can spot the narwhal in the image above thanks to its speckled gray coloring and its long single tusk.
“It behaves like it was one of the boys,” Robert Michaud, GREMM’s president and scientific director, told CBC News.
It’s actually quite surprising that beluga whales, let alone narwhals, are in St. Lawrence River as they are primarily found in icy Arctic waters. The 120-or-so belugas that live in the area are an isolated population that don’t tend to migrate as far as others.
“I don’t think it should surprise people,” added Martin Nweeia, a researcher and narwhal expert at Harvard University. “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.”
Even though these two species might look rather different, they are actually the only two members of the cetacean family Monodontidae. They’re both highly sociable marine mammals, although narwhals tend to hang out in deep seas that are covered in a layer of thick ice.
“Due to the climate change being observed in the Arctic, there is a chance that these two related species… might find themselves in one another’s company more and more frequently in the decades to come,” GREMM said in a blog post.
“We already see this phenomenon in other species such as the polar bear and the grizzly, which have even been observed to interbreed.”
There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that they’ve had close run-ins with each other before. In 1993, a scientific study documented the skull of an apparent cross between a narwhal and a beluga whale, although DNA testing was never carried out to confirm this theory.
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