Narwhals – Tusking

Narwhals – Tusking
Music
Ambiance: Narwhal song – CD 06.01.12-1

Monkeys pick nits off each other’s heads. Plenty of humans like a good back massage. And if you’re arctic whale? You rub tusks. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The narwhal has a tusk that extends from its forehead. Narwhals have a practice scientists have dubbed “tusking,” in which two whales rub these 8-foot long tusks together. Dr. Martin Nweeia studies the narwhal.

“Tusking is a behavior where narwhal are seen with their tusks, usually above the water, although it can occur below the water as well. From talking to Inuit elders– who’ve probably had the most experience being around this whale-it really is gentle process. It’s not something that’s seen as a battle. Typically, that was seen in some of the more western viewpoint-type articles or literature or even lore. And, in terms of the value of tusking, it could be for multiple purposes. It could be sensing something; you know, the physical act of rubbing two tusks against each other could provide some sensation for these animals. The second thing, the whale may have this aspect as a way of brushing its teeth, or its tooth in this case. When tusks are looked at in nature, the high ridges-cause keep in mind, this is almost a ribbon that’s kind of wound together and there’s really high points to it and low valleys to it. The high points or the high parts of the ridges don’t really collect as much of the algae, and they look more clean. And, because of that, I have a feeling that when they tusk, they can actually clean these high ridge portions, which might help to expose some nerve endings. And that could be an appropriate way for the whale to, again, be cleaning the surface of this so it could act as a better sensor. You scratch my tusk, I scratch yours. Absolutely”

We’ll hear more about the narwhals in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Narwhals - Tusking

Tooth cleaning or a nuzzle? Well, maybe both! It's the tusking behavior of the narwhal.
Air Date:03/28/2012
Scientist:
Transcript:

Narwhals - Tusking
Music
Ambiance: Narwhal song - CD 06.01.12-1

Monkeys pick nits off each other's heads. Plenty of humans like a good back massage. And if you're arctic whale? You rub tusks. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The narwhal has a tusk that extends from its forehead. Narwhals have a practice scientists have dubbed "tusking," in which two whales rub these 8-foot long tusks together. Dr. Martin Nweeia studies the narwhal.

"Tusking is a behavior where narwhal are seen with their tusks, usually above the water, although it can occur below the water as well. From talking to Inuit elders-- who've probably had the most experience being around this whale-it really is gentle process. It's not something that's seen as a battle. Typically, that was seen in some of the more western viewpoint-type articles or literature or even lore. And, in terms of the value of tusking, it could be for multiple purposes. It could be sensing something; you know, the physical act of rubbing two tusks against each other could provide some sensation for these animals. The second thing, the whale may have this aspect as a way of brushing its teeth, or its tooth in this case. When tusks are looked at in nature, the high ridges-cause keep in mind, this is almost a ribbon that's kind of wound together and there's really high points to it and low valleys to it. The high points or the high parts of the ridges don't really collect as much of the algae, and they look more clean. And, because of that, I have a feeling that when they tusk, they can actually clean these high ridge portions, which might help to expose some nerve endings. And that could be an appropriate way for the whale to, again, be cleaning the surface of this so it could act as a better sensor. You scratch my tusk, I scratch yours. Absolutely"

We'll hear more about the narwhals in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.