Lonely narwhal makes friends with beluga whales

The story of this lost young whale has a happy ending

A narwhal was first spotted in Quebec’s St Lawrence River in 2016, a surprising sight as narwhals usually live 100 kilometres further north. The juvenile must have got lost, but he didn’t seem distressed; he was playing with his new friends, a large group of beluga whales.

These whales were themselves a little out of place. Modern belugas normally inhabit waters closer to the Arctic Circle, but one population remained in the St Lawrence River when the last ice age ended.

While this interspecies friendship is unusual, it does make sense. The two species are closely related and have similar hunting and social behaviours, so it wasn’t hard for the narwhal to fit in with the pod of young males.

Drones flown over the river by the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) earlier this summer recorded footage of the pod, and confirmed that the narwhal has stayed with them. He’s an established member now, and researchers say he behaves like ‘one of the boys’.

The scientists are keen to follow this young male as he grows up alongside the belugas. This unlikely band of friends could provide an insight into the complex social relationships of whales, and the narwhal’s acceptance by the belugas poses an interesting question: what will happen when he reaches maturity? Cross-breeding between the species has been reported before, so the St Lawrence River could one day be home to narwhal-beluga hybrids.

 

Check out the video below to see the narwhal swimming with his new friends: