Video Solves Mystery of How Narwhals Use Their Tusks

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A new study has shown narwhals , who live in the Arctic, can see with sound. (Credit: Dr. Kristin Laidre/NOAA)

(Click to enlarge) (Credit: Dr. Kristin Laidre/NOAA)

The unicorn of the sea just got a little less mysterious. Until now, how narwhals used their long tusks had been subject to much speculation by scientists. Behavior captured for the first time on camera shows narwhals using the long tusks protruding from their heads to stun Arctic cod by hitting them, using jagged, quick movements. This behavior immobilizes the fish, making them easier to prey upon.

(From National Geographic / by Sarah Gibbens) — The footage was shot by two drones in Tremblay Sound, Nunavat, in Canada’s far Northeastern regions by Adam Ravetch for the World Wildlife Fund Canada and researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Brandon Laforest, a senior specialist of Arctic species and ecosystems with WWF-Canada, explained why narwhals have been such a mysterious species.

“They don’t jump like other whales. They are also notoriously skittish,” said Laforest. “This is an entirely new observation of how the tusk is used.”

Laforest, working with officials from the Canadian government, spent time camped in the narwhal’s winter habitat. Because of the remote regions in which narwhals live, visual confirmation of their behavior has been difficult to ascertain.

Marianne Marcoux, a research scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, noted that drones have been an innovative tool for studying these elusive animals.

“Drones are very exciting, we can see things we couldn’t see before,” said Marcoux. Previous aerial observations were conducted by small planes that often provided an incomplete view or frightened the animals.

Three quarters of the world’s population can be found in neighboring Lancaster Sound, which is being considered by the Canadian government for a protected area.

While the footage confirms one theory of how narwhals use their tusks, they may be used for other purposes as well, such as for ice picks, weapons, sexual selection, or as a tool for echolocation. Laforest, however, thinks they may be especially important as sensory organs. Their tusks are covered in thousands of nerve endings and pores that help narwhals sense the environment around them.

“They can feel their surroundings similar to how a human’s broken tooth would have feeling,” said Marcoux.

The tusk is a left canine tooth protruding from the heads of males and can grow as long as nine feet. The right canine stays embedded, and no other teeth protrude from the inside of their mouths; narwhals instead use suction to swallow their prey whole.

The new footage is also significant for conservation efforts because it shows that narwhals feed in the waters in their summer waters. Scientists previously believed they fed exclusively in their winter waters around the southern portion of Baffin Island. Identifying the key regions that narwhals depend on for feeding and calving can help conservationists better preserve their environment and migratory routes.

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Scientists Solve Mystery Of Antarctica’s Blood Falls

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Blood Falls seeps from the end of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. The tent at left provides a sense of scale. (Credit: National Science Foundation/Peter Rejcek)

(Click to enlarge) Blood Falls seeps from the end of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. The tent at left provides a sense of scale. (Credit: National Science Foundation/Peter Rejcek)

Scientists have long been puzzled by the origins of the mysterious, blood-red waterfall that streams down Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. First discovered by geoscientist Griffith Taylor in 1911, the source of the Blood Falls’ eerie red ooze finally has an explanation, thanks to new research out of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College. 

(From CBS News) — The falls are fed by a large source of salty water trapped beneath the glacier for possibly more than one million years, the research team explained in a study published in the Journal of Galciology. 

“The salts in the brine made this discovery possible by amplifying contrast with the fresh glacier ice,” the study’s lead author, Jessica Badgeley, said in a press release. 

Blood Falls is famous for its sporadic releases of iron-rich salty water, which turns bright red — like something out of a horror movie — once the iron reacts with the surrounding air. 

For her research, Badgeley and her team traced tracked the brine with radio-echo sounding, a method of studying glaciers and ice sheets with radar that uses two antenna — one to transmit electrical pulses and another to receive the signals.

While conducting the research, Badgeley was an undergrad at Colorado College and worked with University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) glaciologist Erin Pettit and UAF doctoral candidate Chrisina Carr.

The team moved the antennae around Taylor Glacier in “grid-like patterns” in order to “see” what was beneath the ice, said Carr, who co-authored the study.

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The post Scientists Solve Mystery Of Antarctica’s Blood Falls appeared on Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

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University of Wyoming Researcher Helps Solve Fish Evolution Mystery

A University of Wyoming researcher is part of an international team that has discovered how more than 700 species of fish have evolved in East Africa’s Lake Victoria region over the past 150,000 years.

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Scientists had already known about this high-speed crash, which occurred almost 4.5 billion years ago, but many thought the Earth collided with Theia (pronounced THAY-eh) at an angle of 45 degrees or more — a powerful side-swipe (simulated in this 2012 YouTube video). New evidence reported Jan. 29 in the journal Science substantially strengthens the case for a head-on assault.

The researchers analyzed seven rocks brought to the Earth from the moon by the Apollo 12, 15 and 17 missions, as well as six volcanic rocks from the Earth’s mantle — five from Hawaii and one from Arizona.

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Mystery Solved? How Sharks Find Their Way Home

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Great white shark. (Credit: Ken Bondy/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

(Click to enlarge) Great white shark. (Credit: Ken Bondy/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

How sharks navigate the vast and seemingly featureless ocean has long been a mystery. Now there’s evidence they may follow their noses.

(From National Geographic / by Traci Watson) — Sharks rely on their sense of smell to help chart a path through the ever-shifting waters of the deep seas, according to a new study. (Read more about the secrets of animal navigation.) Many sharks make epic journeys: Great white sharks routinely swim from Hawaii to California, and salmon sharks migrate between the Alaska coast and the subtropical Pacific. Scientists have hypothesized that the animals navigate by monitoring odor cues or the Earth’s magnetic field, but no one knew for sure. In new experiments near San Diego (map), scientists ferried wild leopard sharks about 6 miles (10 kilometers) away from their preferred hangout, fitted them with tracking devices, and stuffed some of the animals’ nostrils with cotton balls. 

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The post Mystery Solved? How Sharks Find Their Way Home appeared on Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Mystery on How Penguins Stay Ice-Free Solved

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