Whales Freeze and then Flee When There’s Danger (Study)

Three narwhals swimming

A team of scientists fitted some heart-rate monitoring tags to some Arctic narwhals. This is how they discovered an unusual way of dealing with danger when there is one nearby. It seems like those big whales slow down their heart rates when they feel fear. At the same time, they begin to swim much faster in order to escape the threat. However, according to scientists, this way of dealing with danger might not be the best one. Mainly because the whales become very tired and make a lot of effort when they only have a limited body supply.

The journal Science has recently published this study which speaks volumes about how the “unicorns of the sea” deal with an increased level of human involvement in their habitat. It’s also worth noting that over the years, narwhals have not been bothered by a lot of human interaction. Because they live mostly hidden in the Arctic sea ice, they were sheltered from any kind of intrusion. Until now. As the ice melts, their shelter also gets destroyed.

Narwhals and their unusual way of escaping threats

According to Terrie Williams, the lead researcher, the humans’ desire for oil and gas exploration as well as shipping is bothering narwhals more and more. She also explained that her colleague contacted her to start this research and to put the tags on the narwhals. She had previously used them on dolphins to study their physiology.

Her tags also include an advanced heart monitor as well as a satellite tracking device. So, the team worked with hunters and released narwhals entangled in nets. At first, their heart rate was pretty high, as expected from a frightened animal. However, as soon as they were released and took off, their heart rate slowed down to just three to four beats each minute. However, they were swimming as fast as they usually do. It’s an interesting escaping mechanism, but one that could leave them with permanent damage.

Image source: wikimedia

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