Putting Unicorns to Work
The Washington Post has an interesting bit today on how researchers are using narwhals to collect data in regions of the Arctic. The project, jointly run by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration, is using the deep diving narwhals to reach poorly sampled regions of the oceans to gather information on temperature, time, and depth. The article doesn’t say anything about collecting data on salinity, a measurement I think would be of particular interest in the debate about the causes and effects of global warming and the Atlantic Gyre and the thermohaline effect. It seems these tusked whales are working hard to improve their PR from mere counters to poison to active members of the environmental movement.
Scientists Enlist Nature’s Divers to Sample Icy Sea
For years, scientists have been trying to get a sense of the ocean north of Greenland but have been deterred by the harsh weather there. Now they have finally found deep-diving oceanographers willing to do their work for them: narwhals.
Narwhals — whales that got their name because the Norse thought their skin resembled that of a drowned sailor — used to be coveted for their 9-foot spiral tusks. In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I of England bought a narwhal tusk for a price supposedly equal to a castle, and other royals sought the tusk for medicinal purposes.
But researchers from the United States and Greenland are using them to analyze a part of the ocean crucial for regulating climate. The narwhals’ wintering territory is near the northern Labrador Sea, where warm, salty water is moving north and cold, fresh water is moving south.