Skip to main content

This drone footage finally reveals how narwhals use their long tusks

A New Narwhal Discovery
Narwhal tusks have long fascinated Inuits but there has never been scientific evidence for how they are actually used. Well, drone footage has finally confirmed one use of these strange extensions. In a short clip, a narwhal is shown striking, stunning, and eating a small fish — the first time such behavior has been captured on tape.

“We know narwhals come in an out of the fjords in the summer but it’s not totally clear what they do,” Marianne Marcoux, one of the scientists who worked on the study, told Digital Trends. “The drone allows us to get a new vantage point without disturbing the animals.”

Initiated as a pilot study to test the usefulness of the drone, the goal was to count how many narwhals were entering Tremblay Sound, Nunavut. The research team from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, and Arctic Bear Productions got a surprise.

“We found the narwhal would use the tusk to tap fish and it would stun them a little bit, and the narwhal could then suck in the fish,” Marcoux said.

Stunning fish is now an acknowledged secondary function of the tusk — the first of which is for sexual selection. “It’s a bit like the feathers of the peacock in that it allows the female to judge the male on his qualities,” Marcoux said.

This secondary function is closely related to another hypothesis, which suggests the tusks are used as sensory organs.

The narwhal’s tusk is a hollow canine tooth that spirals out from the animals head, reaching lengths of up to nine feet. A nerve runs through its middle and small holes enables the narwhal to sense its environment, such as electricity generated by fish.

Despite their apparent noise, the drones don’t seem to disturb the narwhals. Marcoux said at least one other study has measured drone noise above and below water in the environments and determined that the devices weren’t loud enough to bother the animals. The researchers plan to return with a drone next year summer to observe moms and their calves.

Editors' Recommendations

Dyllan Furness
Dyllan Furness is a freelance writer from Florida. He covers strange science and emerging tech for Digital Trends, focusing…
Uber Eats is close to delivering your dinner using a drone
uber eats redesigned app lets you track your order with cute graphics

Along with announcing Uber Cash Monday, Uber shared a few more details about its plans to bring drone delivery to Uber Eats.
Uber unveiled the design for the drones at the Forbes 30 under 30 summit. The drones will have rotating wings with six rotors and will be able to take off and land vertically, Techcrunch reports.
While you might think the drones would be used for long-distance travel, instead they’ll likely be used for more local deliveries, at least for the time being. The drones are expected to have a maximum travel time of eight minutes, including takeoff and landing, and will have a range of 18 miles. For round-trip deliveries, the drones will likely travel 12 miles.
In previous conversations about the project, Uber has suggested that it doesn’t plan to use the drones for an entire restaurant to door delivery and instead plans to use the drones for more of a "last mile” approach. For instance, a restaurant might load up several drones for a delivery area and then those drones will all be launched from a central location to their final stops.
In another scenario, the drones will be deployed from restaurants to parked Uber vehicles that will then be responsible for delivering the food that final mile to its destination.
In July, Uber was conducting tests of the delivery drone in San Diego. Those tests were done from a McDonald’s in the area and were done using an Air Robot AR200 octocopter with a custom-built box for holding the food.
In July, Uber talked about building its own drones for food delivery and said that they could eventually reach speeds of 70mph. It had hoped to have its commercial service set up by this summer, which clearly didn’t pan out.
Earlier this month Wing launched the first drone delivery in the United States. Wing, which is owned by Google, is delivering over-the-counter medication, snacks, and gifts to people in Christiansburg, Virginia. It is working in partnership with Walgreens, FedEx Express and Virginia-based retailer Sugar Magnolia on the project.
In the case of Wing, customers have to opt into receiving deliveries via drone should they want to try the technology out.

Read more
Tiny drone uses A.I. to learn from nature’s best pilot, the hummingbird
hummingbird ai drone 200543 web 1

Hummingbird Robots: Naturally Intriguing

One of nature's most remarkable creations is the hummingbird, which flaps its wings up to 80 times per second and which can hover in place and fly in any direction. Now scientists have used machine learning algorithms to study the way these birds fly in order to replicate their abilities in drones.

Read more
Just drag and drop: Using A.I., Skylum AirMagic edits drone photos for you
skylum airmagic launches 1

Drones took photography to literal new heights, but when it comes to photo editing, aerial images tend to have a few quirks to correct. On Thursday, March 7, Skylum launched an artificially intelligent photo editor designed specifically for aerial shots called AirMagic.

Like Skylum’s A.I.-powered photo editor Photolemur, AirMagic requires little input to actually edit images. Photographers drag the images into the app and the software does the rest, relying on machine learning to determine what should be adjusted and how. Because the software is trained specifically for aerial images, the company says the program is better able to capture the issues that frequently pop up in aerial photography, such as haze, contrast, sharpness, saturation, and chromatic aberration.

Read more