We know very little about narwhals due to their isolation. These tusked marine mammals live in northern waters, often spotted around Russia, Canada, and Greenland. As climate change continues to shrink the polar caps, ships have more access and routes close to the narwhals’ habitat. Data shows an increase in ships in these areas of 300% between 2015 and 2016. Although this improves the ability of marine biologists to study these mammals, the effect of human activity can create more disruption to their habitat than anticipated.
Mads Peter Hiede-Jorgensen a marine biologist at Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, teamed up with Terrie Williams, an ecophysiologist from the University of Santa Cruz to study the reactions of these mammals to stress. Using an instrument that attaches to the narwhals with suction cups and monitors heart beats using electrodes, the teams was able to record data from five whales for a few days. T
The data obtained which also includes depth, acceleration, and speed of fin beating however, was very abnormal. Although it’s known that most whales slow down their heart beat as they dive deeper, heart beats are often raised when the whales are swimming faster during a fight or flight response to increase the oxygen supply for the muscles. These narwhals showed a drop in heart beat to about 10 beats per minute as they dove deeper, but a heartbeat as low as 3 beats per minute for a period of more than 1.5 hours after their tagging and release. These conditions could be fatal to an animal if repeated since the muscles are not supplied with the oxygen needed. These animals are therefore, not resistant to sudden change to their habitat and its very important that humans be cautious as they approach the Arctic.