Scientists monitoring whales in Canada’s St. Lawrence River have noticed something peculiar about a group of young belugas – one of them isn’t a beluga at all.
The St. Lawrence belugas appear to have adopted a stray narwhal, who was spotted swimming with a group of at least 10 other whales in drone footage captured in August.
While narwhals typically spend their lives in cold Arctic waters, this individual has, for some reason, ventured further south.
And, researchers say he seems right at home with his new family.
According to the researchers with the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), this isn’t even the first time they’ve spotted the lost narwhal with his beluga companions.
The male narwhal was seen back in 2016 and 2017, too. With a dark, speckled coloration and a massive tusk protruding from his head, he sticks out like a sore thumb among the pale beluga whales.
But, that hasn’t stopped this group from taking him in as one of their own.
‘The drone sequence that we collected showed a narwhal that seems to be at home with the St. Lawrence belugas,’ the researchers wrote in a blog post.
‘We observe it in a group of about ten young males in the midst of socializing.’
Footage of the sighting shows roughly a dozen white beluga whales swimming in the St. Lawrence River.
As they get closer to the surface, it becomes instantly clear that one is not like the rest.
The whales swim playfully together, forming a closely packed group and bumping up against one another.
It might seem unusual, but as rising temperatures increasingly push species into new environments, the researcher say it could soon become more common.
‘Due to the climate change being observed in the Arctic, there is a chance that these two related species (the beluga and narwhal belong to the same family: Monodontidae) might find themselves in one another’s company more and more frequently in the decades to come,’ the GREMM researchers wrote.
‘We already see this phenomenon in other species such as the polar bear and the grizzly, which have even been observed to interbreed.
‘Might we someday observe a narwhal-beluga hybrid in the St. Lawrence?’