Since 2016, researchers have been tracking a unusual group of beluga whales that have adopted a stray male narwhal in the St. Lawrence River in North America. The narwhal has been joining the beluga pod ever since. It has been travelling with them, as if he were one of them.
This case has surprised the scientists. Both narwhals are beluga whales are found in the Arctic ocean. Narwhals have been known to occasionally migrate further south in winter as sea ice builds up, however this is extremely rare. They stay in the Arctic and spend up to five months under sea ice.
Over the years, scientists at the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) have used a drone to assess the narwhal’s growth, CBC reported. They realize it from markings on its body. It is healthy, and appears to be fitting in the group.
Researchers estimate that the male narwhal is now about 12 years old and reaching sexual maturity. They are set to see whether the narwhal will mate with one of its beluga peers to produce a hybrid animal as a “narluga,” reports Robyn White for Newsweek.
“We know that hybridization is possible … it did happen a few times,” Robert Michaud, president and scientific director of GREMM told CBC.
Michaud said the narwhal’s high level of integration into the group means breeding is a possibility. The researchers will continue to monitor the narwhal, and begin the search for any offspring.
“It’s fun, it’s intriguing, but it’s also very powerful and useful information for us tracking the life of this narwhal amongst the belugas,” Michaud tells CBC. “If he’s doing well, he might be here for the next 40 years — they live up to 60, 80 years old.”