Narwhal – Dance of a Thousand Whales
Music; Ambience: Narwhal song
JM: If you had an 8-foot tusk extending from your forehead and all your buddies did too, you might be expected to impale each other from time to time. Right now, we’re listening to the song of a narwhal-an arctic whale with just such an appendage, and no, you’d be hard pressed to ever see them unintentionally cross tusks. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Martin Nweeia studies narwhal. He says one of the many unanswered questions about them is why don’t bump into each other when they’re swimming together.
MN: “Indeed, when you see them in herds, they even understand where each other is. They know intimately where each other is, when they’re in a large herd. And when I mean intimately, I mean within fractions of an inch. Because it is impossible, when I’ve looked at herd behavior and seen how these tusk animals come up, that they don’t collide with each other. I mean, how on earth can you dance with a thousand whales over such a limited period through an ice lead and not bump into a partner every once and a while, you know? I mean, even your best dancers have a collision every once and while, but imagine wielding around an 8 or 9 foot tusk around a dance floor and trying to do that.”
JM: How the narwhal manage to navigate is not fully known. But one thing is for sure-they’re not relying upon sight.
MN: “Their eyes are miniscule. If you, if you didn’t understand the anatomy of a whale, you’d be hard pressed to find the eye. For the most part, eyes are not a typical way that whales are going to, you know, sense things or communicate or understand their environment. And, indeed, if we’re talking about the dance with a thousand whales; no, you can’t see your partners all over the place. You have to have some other sense of how the motion is around you and understand how you need to be assimilated, you know, with that.”
JM: Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by the National Science Foundation and Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.