Sunday

Since 2016, a young narwhal has been spotted swimming in the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Somehow this narwhal got very lost – the threatened species makes its home in the Arctic, over 600 miles to the north.

In heartwarming, don’t-you-wish-all-species-could-be-like-whales news, the lost narwhal is no longer a stranger in a strange land. A pod of about 10 young, male beluga whales has adopted him as one of their own, and the narwhal is fitting right in with them. (He’s believed to be a young male because his tusk hasn’t yet grown to its full size of up to almost 9 feet.)

This happy discovery was made by researchers from the nonprofit Group for Education and Research on Marine Mammals (GREMM), which is dedicated to scientific research on the whales of the St. Lawrence as well as marine conservation education. The primary mission of GREMM this year is beluga photo-identification. “The objectives of this project are manifold, but it notably offers researchers insight into the complex social relationships of St. Lawrence belugas,” GREMM wrote on Whales Online. “It’s a bit like a beluga Facebook.”

The researchers were using a drone to film beluga whales in July when they realized one of the mammals was actually a narwhal. Photos confirmed the narwhal was the same one they’d observed in the St. Lawrence River over the past two years.

“It behaves like it was one of the boys,” Robert Michaud, president and scientific director of GREMM, told CBC News. The narwhal even blows bubbles just like his adopted family members.

This wasn’t the first narwhal to become lost. Michaud said some have wandered as far south as New Jersey. Tragically, in their attempts to make new friends by approaching boats, some narwhals have been killed by the propellers.


“That little narwhal that made a similar trip was very lucky, because he found almost normal buddies,” Michaud told CBC News.

Due to climate change, GREMM predicts that more narwhals may be seen in the company of beluga whales in the future. “We already see this phenomenon in other species such as the polar bear and the grizzly, which have even been observed to interbreed,” the group notes on Whales Online. “Might we someday observe a narwhal-beluga hybrid in the St. Lawrence?”

Could such a hybrid already exist? Back in 1993, a skull of what may have been one was discovered in Greenland. Although the skull and its teeth were larger than those of narwhals and belugas, researchers wrote that the characteristics “are consistent with the hypothesis that the anomalous whale was a narwhal‐beluga hybrid.”

A narwhal being adopted by a pod of beluga whales shouldn’t surprise anyone, said Martin Nweeia, a Harvard University researcher who’s studied narwhals for 20 years. “I think it shows … the compassion and the openness of other species to welcome another member that may not look or act the same,” he told CBC News. “And maybe that’s a good lesson for everyone.”
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