For the last three years, a narwhal has been spotted along the Saint Lawrence River in North America, some 1000 kilometres away from its traditional home in the Arctic.
What’s more, the narwhal hasn’t been spotted alone.
Conservationists have viewed the incredible creature playing amongst a pod of beluga whales. The group of mammals – including the narwhal – are all thought to be male. According to researchers, the interactions between the whales and the narwhal are the same as between the whales.
Robert Michaud, President and Scientific Director of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), said, “They are in constant contact with each other. It’s a like a big social ball of young juveniles that are playing some social, sexual games.”
The interactions suggest the narwhal has been completely accepted as one of the pod, with researchers noting there have been no “special” interactions between the beluga and narwhal.
Speaking to CBC, Martin Nweeia, a researcher at Harvard University specialising in narwhals, said the narwhal’s unlikely companions don’t surprise him.
“I don’t think it should surprise people. 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.”
The narwhal has been spotted several times over the last three years, and while it isn’t unusual for young narwhals to break from their pod, it is extremely rare to find one so far south.
Narwhals typically live in the freezing waters of the northern hemisphere, including areas of sea surrounding Canada and Greenland. Being a social creature, occasionally when they do separate from their pod, they can end up being injured by boats when approaching them in an effort to make a friend.
Both beluga whales and narwhals enjoy the company of others, and while it remains an uncommon sight, Nweeia says his research team have previously spotted the reverse adoption – a beluga taken in by narwhals.
It seems humans could learn a lot from the compassion of these magnificent sea creatures.