Canadian scientific footage confirms use of Narwhal Tusk

Narwhals using tusks
Photo: The first-ever footage of Narwhals using their tusks for feeding

In collaboration with the community of Pond Inlet and benefiting from Inuit Traditional Knowledge, this first-of-its kind footage was captured by Canadian scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the University of Windsor, World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, and by Arctic Bear Productions.

There is a wealth of Inuit Traditional Knowledge and scientific theory about the uses of the Narwhal’s tusk, but prior to this there has been no definitive recorded scientific evidence of its use.  While the scientists believe the primary function of the tusk is probably related to sexual selection, this provides new insights into the function of the tusk, raises new, interesting questions about the species, and opens new avenues of research into these iconic marine mammals.

The video footage was captured during another DFO pilot project, which was using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) to study Narwhal behaviour on their summering ground in Tremblay Sound, NU.  This research also underlines the potential of UAVs for making scientific advances in observing and understanding wild animals.

This research was jointly funded by DFO, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Polar Continental Shelf Project and World Wildlife Fund Canada and was done in collaboration with local Inuit, the University of Windsor and the Vancouver Aquarium.


“This is exciting research that demonstrates Canada’s leadership in Arctic marine science. The Narwhal is an iconic and culturally-significant species in the North, and this newly documented feeding behaviour will open up new insights on how we best protect the species for future generations. It serves as a concrete example of how we are advancing marine science.”

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“For our community, the priority is to protect the unicorns of the seas.  Research such as this can help draw needed attention to the issues unique to Canada’s Arctic and our people.”

Eric Ootoovak, Vice-Chair of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization in Pond Inlet, Nunavut

“This footage, while also stunning to watch, will play a significant role in the future of narwhal conservation. As the Arctic warms and development pressure increases, it will be important to understand how narwhal are using their habitat during their annual migration. With this information in hand, we can work to minimize the effects of human activities on narwhal. More research needs to be conducted to determine how they behave across their range, including the identification of calving and rearing areas. WWF-Canada is looking forward to partnering with Fisheries and Oceans Canada again this year on narwhal research in order to further our understanding of these mysterious animals.”

David Miller, President and CEO, WWF-Canada

“Documenting such novel behavior of a complex and difficult to study species that inhabits such a challenging environment is absolutely incredible. These data prove the value of direct observation to understand animal behavior and ecology, but also highlight the important role of technology in modern science. Uniting observations of animal behavior from traditional knowledge, unmanned vehicles and statistical modelling of tracking data, now provide a comprehensive toolbox to better manage these iconic aquatic species.”

Dr. Nigel Hussey, University of Windsor

“It is always my goal as an Arctic wildlife cinematographer to document behavior no one has seen before, and to add to the natural history archive. To be part of the scientific team that is contributing new knowledge and cinematic imagery to the life of the rare and legendary Narwhal was a great privilege for me.”

Adam Ravetch, Wildlife Filmmaker, Arctic Bear Productions

Quick Facts

  • Narwhals live in Arctic waters, generally above 61°N latitude, in Nunavut, west Greenland and the European Arctic. In Canada, two populations have been recognized based largely on summering distribution: the Baffin Bay population and the Hudson Bay population.
  • There are approximately 158,000 Narwhal in the Baffin Bay population and 12,500 in the Hudson Bay population.
  • The Narwhal tusk is a tooth. Adult male Narwhal have only two teeth. The right tooth remains embedded in the skull; the left forms a spiral tusk that can extend over three metres.
  • Part of the $197.1 million investment in oceans and freshwater science (Budget 2016) will go toward purchasing new technologies like UAVs to support researchers across the country.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.