Narwhals freeze? Really?

Guest essay by Mike Jonas

The UK’s public broadcaster, the BBC, reported on 7 December 2017 that:

Narwhal escape: Whales freeze and flee when frightened

Scientists who fitted heart rate-monitoring tags to Arctic narwhals have discovered a strange paradox in how the animals respond to threats.

When these tusked whales are frightened, their hearts slow, but at the same time they swim quickly to escape.

Scientists say the response could be “highly costly” – because they exert themselves with a limited blood supply.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

They raise questions about how the enigmatic “unicorns of the sea” will cope with increasing human intrusion on their Arctic habitat.

Historically, narwhals have not come into contact with much human disturbance, because they live mainly hidden among Arctic sea ice. But in recent decades, as the ice has declined, this is changing.

“Shipping and exploration for oil and gas is moving into the narwhals’ world,” said lead researcher Dr Terrie Williams, from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

 

The article continues, but its basic message is clear: evil oil exploration and human interference will give narwhals heart failure.

As so often happens with BBC articles, especially those that report on things in the journal science, it immediately triggered my BS indicator. How can Narwhals have survived for millions of years if they react this way to stress? For example, if a pod of orcas comes past would a narwhal just die?

A quick search led me to Cool Antarctica [that might be the wrong end of the planet, but I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time on this]:

Narwhal – Facts and Adaptations – Monodon monoceros

[..]

Diving physiology (physiological and anatomical) – Whales and seals have a number of adaptations that allow them to dive deep beneath the sea for extended time periods, narwhals can dive to 1,500m (4,900 feet) and stay submerged for up to 25 minutes.

· The lungs are collapsed lungs on diving with only the minimum of air held in the respiratory system. This prevents any retained air (or more specifically the nitrogen in that air) from being forced into the blood under pressure at depth and coming out again on resurfacing so resulting in the “bends” which can be damaging or even fatal.

· Bradycardia, the slowing down of the heart considerably from the normal rate. Blood is directed only towards the vital organs such as the brain and heart and to the swimming muscles and those associated with catching prey. The rest of the body is largely bypassed for the duration of the dive to retain oxygen for immediately necessary purposes only.

· Large amounts of myoglobin in the swimming muscles to store oxygen for use during a dive. Myoglobin is a large protein molecule similar to haemoglobin that carries oxygen in the blood. Haemoglobin gives up its oxygen before myoglobin does, so once the haemoglobin source of oxygen is exhausted, then myoglobin gives up its oxygen to the muscles enabling them to work efficiently for longer. large amounts of myoglobin in diving animals makes their muscle a deep red colour.

· Oxygen loading and ridding of carbon dioxide before a deep and long dive. Long deep breaths are taken while at rest before diving to clear dissolved CO2 from the blood and load up haemoglobin and myoglobin with oxygen before the dive to enable a longer period before the next breath.

The first thing that springs out is that the behaviour which the BBC reported with “Scientists … have discovered …” was already well-known.

The second thing is that this physiological behaviour is brilliant for narwhals’ survival.

I didn’t need a third thing. If a narwhal comes across a human – even an evil oil driller – the narwhal will do just fine.


Footnote. I know absolutely nothing about narwhals. I’m simply someone that likes to check stuff before accepting it. I freely acknowledge that I might have completely misunderstood everything, in which case I would be very grateful for any correction. I’m always happy to be proved wrong – it’s a lot better than remaining wrong.

Advertisements

86 thoughts on “Narwhals freeze? Really?

      • peer review is a BS receptor and would most certainly prove it to be political. They would discredit cool Antarctica without disproving their science.

      • Michio Kaku, David Suzuki, and the inventor Thomas Crapper are at the cutting edge of media-science. Oh, and Neal Tyson DeGrasse (why three names but to acquire gravitas otherwise absent).

      • Sadly that is true. Once a beacon of truth (maybe never perfect but that is what they used to strive for) in a world full of lies the the BBC has become the PC BBC infested with leftwing ideology and everything else that goes with it. They absolutely never report anything on climate which is not warmist, rise-ist or alarmist. The repeatedly follow the “everyone knows” chestnut throwing in the “consensus” argument with scientists on the end to somehow endorse this absurdity. However the rot does not stop there. Their dangerously left wing credentials are on show in a whole number of areas from their blind love for immigrants, their dislike of Israel ( I am not Jewish or an Israeli I just object to bias of any kind especially from a broadcaster paid for by public subscription) their obsessive promotion of Islam, and coming back to AGW their gushing over Weeenewables irrespective of how worthless or economically insane the project may be. You only need to read their take on Musk and his 1 hour big battery in Southern Australia. No mention of the cause being left wing interference and ideological obsession with renewables to the detrement of reality, ignoring the real needs of infrastructure and a back up for their solution which is at best part time only

    • Very similar to the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology joint study on Shags (a marine bird) in Scotland which concluded that the reduction in Sand Eels in the Shags’ diet was (likely) as a result of climate change reducing sand eel numbers. It was reported here at WUWT a few weeks ago and I looked a bit further into it.

      https://www.ceh.ac.uk/news-and-media/news/warmer-water-signals-change-scotland%E2%80%99s-shags

      Two separate studies on Sand Eels in the area of the CEH study found that the reduction in sand eeel numbers in the sea was a direct result of commercial overfishing, predominantly by scandinavian vessels. One report was a British Government study and the other a Scottish government study.

      I emailed CEH and the publisher, Inter-research Marine Ecology Progress Series (http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v583/p227-242/) querying the study finding and pointing out that as it took no account of and ignored the Scottish and British government research it was unfit for publication.

      Neither body is prepared to enter into any discussion with me or explain why the two government research papers have been ignored.

      I haven’t yet, but will be emailing them again with more queries and stating that in the absence of adequate response from either CEH or I-R I will be forced to the conclusion that this study was nothing more than unfounded ‘climate science’ for hire.

    • The “researchers” clearly have not done any background research before drawing their conclusions. This is only” a strange paradox ” if you naively expect deep diving, cold water sea mammals to have the same flight response as humans or other land mammals.

      Narwhals flight response is to dive, for which their body is well attuned.

      As Mike Jonas rightly points out , 5 minutes of internet research would explain this, let alone the literature research that any competent scientist does before spending public money researching and publishing.

      This is yet more “OMG its worse than we thought” media fodder written by climate activists masquerading as scientists.

      • Correct. This is the long known diving reflex. Even people have it. It is what allows a baby to survive normal birth without suffocating. I am an underwater swimmer and I use the same techniques to extend the brief time I can swim submerged, and this includes the pre-dive hyperventilation as described for marine mammals. This is not a discovery but simply an observation of something known for many decades.

    • I think the BBC must have slipped in a peer reviewed piece about Harry Potter when they referred to Narwhals as “unicorns of the sea”.

  1. If “The stupid ,it burns” is true , does it cause global warming ?
    There surely seems to be a lot of it lately .

      • Certainly. I’ve conditioned my body to a wide range of heart rate..seeing 210 beats a minute in a hill climb sprint or holding 180 for an hour and a half in a race..I’ve even gone from 150 to 40 by transitioning from bicycle to swimming in 65°F water with a dive start. Just a submersion of 6 feet or so.

        Perfectly healthy and active. Not a Narwhal or breath hold diver.

      • Yes they do and even more so when young. The mammalian diving response is strongest in children. That is why occasionally you’ll read a story about a kid that drown that was revived long after an adult would have been gone. The longest periods when people have survived after having technically drown happen in cold water.

      • And the “experts” described the heart reaction as a freezing reflex, not a flight reflex. That, in spite of literature describing both heart slowing and swim muscle energy when diving.

  2. The old Poley Bears just are not fulfilling their role in the Warmistas Playbook as they used to and so the Warmistas are turning to a new player: Enter the Narwhal.

  3. “But in recent decades”…this seems to be their new code for we don’t want to get pinned down to some time frame

  4. “Historically, narwhals have not come into contact with much human disturbance, because they live mainly hidden among Arctic sea ice. But in recent decades, as the ice has declined, this is changing.”

    Complete nonsense. Historically, and prehistorically, the Inuit people actively hunted them, knew where they were most likely to be and most likely to get trapped by TOO MUCH ICE (which made them much easier to kill), and lived and hunted across much larger areas (they are now congregated in far fewer settlements).

    In other Arctic news, the people who actually live there do not agree with the doomsday ‘scientists’:

    http://notrickszone.com/2017/12/07/2-new-papers-92-of-polar-bear-subpopulations-stable-increasing-inuit-observe-too-many-polar-bears-now/#sthash.tucTevbx.dpbs

    • I suspect the warmist’s answer would be “these people are not scientists or trained observers”. It’s interesting how much “untrained” people notice, make note of and follow over the years. These people have a vested interest in nature—their existence depends on paying attention. I’d trust them over a “real” scientist or a computer model every time.

    • The Inuit and the Nunavut are both in conflict with the green blob over listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.

      • The Greens did a job on native peoples of the North when they banned the importation of seal- derived products into the EU. One of the worst results of the Greens’ action was that suicide rates increased among the Inuit and others, when their traditional source of income, the skins taken during their subsistence on seals, disappeared as markets for seal skins, etc., collapsed. Even though the legislation included a proviso that allowed native seal harvest and sales, the markets collapsed, as no one wanted to risk selling a non- native seal skin, etc.

        Although the importation and sale of baby Harp seal skins had been banned for decades, various Green and animal groups pursued the ban, because their slanted and false campaigns for the ban were exceedingly lucrative, bringing in $millions of donations and profits for the Greens.

        It was all about the money for Greenpeace, et al, and concerns for the welfare of the native peoples weren’t a consideration that mattered to either the Green groups, or the virtue- signalling EU bureaucrats.

  5. Aaaaannnnnnddddd…………..an association with a medically determined human fallibility, is transposed onto a natural survival response of a wild animal.

    It is, of course, negative.

    You now what? I like being an optimist.

    I bet whales are optimist’s, otherwise they would have crawled on the earth’s surface and become green pessimists.

    But they aint daft, it was the fish that dunnit, the whales stayed in the sea. They maintained their integrity and dignity.

    And we got stuck with the slimy, green, pessimistic mob.

    Talk about drawing the short straw.

  6. “I’m always happy to be proved wrong – it’s a lot better than remaining wrong.” It’s nice to see someone who understands that being wrong and shown this is actually a positive thing. My hubby and I say this a lot—if no one tells you you’re wrong, you just go on being wrong. Learning does not occur.

  7. Hey Mike, never mind the Narwhals, have you done any further work on your four part series debunking the math behind the GC models? Does your Excel spreadsheet still fit the latest projections?

    • Trebla: Thanks for your interest. I took a long UK/Europe trip (3 1/2 months) last year, including a great week in the Russian wilderness. Just after that I moved house, and that has been rather time-consuming. In odd moments, I’m working through mountains of climate data. If the end result is interesting, hopefully it’ll get into WUWT. Actually, some of it is already very interesting, but I’m not ready to wrap it up yet.

  8. But the BBC’s original version is more useful to the CAGW narrative, so actual whale physiology just gets in the way.

  9. From reading the full BBC article, it is apparent that Dr. Williams had the same level of knowledge of narwhals as Mike Jonas. Then, Mike Jonas spent a few minutes on an internet search, and now has more knowledge about narwhals than Dr. Williams. Dr. Williams does seem to have expertise in developing satellite tracking devices for dolphins, but the fact that she was ‘astounded’ by what she learned from tagging narwhals, is a good indication that she knew nothing about them before.

    Much of modern science is about rediscovering what is already known, but this time in the framework of ‘humanity is evil’. Honestly, this must be some kind of mass psychological disorder.

    • jckarke341

      Sometimes, on occasion, researchers even ask the locals about the habits of their traditional prey. It is no doubt surprising to many, but those who hunt to survive often know a thing or two about what they are hunting.

      I found the fact narwhales exhale before diving to be a revelation. I would never have guessed as it is so unlike the human natural reflex to do so.

      As for what they fear, I suspect narwhales are far more afraid of Orcas and Polar Bears than they are of people.

      • You are completely wrong.
        This is the diving reflex. Yes humans do the exact same thing.
        Old stuff in physiology textbooks.

      • rd50,

        Eh? You exhale before swimming under water? Very strange. When young I used to be a local champion, when it came to swimming under water, and I definitely inhaled.

        Who was the politician who claimed he didn’t inhale?

      • Crispin – I must not have been very clear with my point. Here it is: Dr. Williams, the person being interviewed about narwhals in this BBC article, doesn’t know anything about narwhals. The science writer for the BBC, Victoria Gill, also doesn’t know anything about narwhals. Together, they create a story about humans and narwhals that is devoid of scientific understanding, completely misleading and filled with far reaching conclusions about how humans must behave in the Arctic, or the whales will die! This BS now goes into the public consciousness, fueling horrible decisions.

        But the truth is already known. It only takes a few minutes to find it, as Mike Jonas just demonstrated. Heck, Jacques Cousteau probably told us about narwhals when we were kids, but we don’t remember. We can’t possibly be checking every sentence in every news story for accuracy. We depend on the news outlets for some due diligence. That is supposed to be their job. Otherwise, what are we paying them to do?

  10. Well we see these “new” discoveries by climate scientists all the time. They ignorantly think that specialists in other fields couldn’t know the wonders they have “discovered ” and stupidly interpreted.

    The past couple of decades have been finding climate scientists pronouncing on things that exasperate real experts. For example, every geology student since the early 19th century has known that coral islands like Tuvalu and Kiribati and deltas like the Ganges and Mississippi rise and fall with sea level changes. Both deltas and coral islands were 120m below present day levels during the the glacial max. As the water rose during the Holocene, coral grew upward to keep pace, and with sea level rise water floods upstream on rivers and sediment burdened River water hits this still water early and drops its sediment, thereby building the delta up to keep pace with sea level. When sea level falls, wave action and storms pound away at raised islands and deltas, trimming the down to size. All this goes to show the hubris and the
    unbelievably poor quality of much of research in climate science.

    Why would they not seek info from geologists on islands and deltas, or marine biologists for the behaviour and physiology of the narwhale? Why would they not seek out historians, and others to discover there was a series of warmer periods before our own and there was a Little Ice Age that froze New York Harbor, the Thames and even the Bosphorus!

    The last 30yrs has been a period of great discovery of what we already knew and much of it not to be heir liking as evidenced by their efforts to get rid of and bury this knowledge. We are much smarter than these stupid people thought.

    • Gary Pearse

      I hear that a large number of Rohinga, displaced by genocidal attacks, have been relocated to new land formed just as you describe, in Bangladesh. The land area of Bangladesh is increasing at quite a rate – I think 50 sq km per year IIRC.

      Surely this process is continuing in the Arctic at the mouth of the Mackenzie River? Projecting this increase a few million years the Mackenzie will be discharging into the Kara Sea.

  11. Well it seems to me, judging by the what the “Scientists” found, is that the Narwhale’s defense is to actually dive to 1500 meters to escape predators…. Hence the slowing of the heart and the quick swim…. If they’d thought to put a depth recorder on them they’d have probably realized the Narwhale had dived quickly to depth…. TA DAH!

  12. This is anthropomorphism. They relate the slowing of the heart and a flight to escape as things that happen on human medical terms. Success with such misleading propaganda requires that the reader by completely ignorant of animal adaptation to local environments.

    As is explained in the comment on the article, narwhales are adapted to flee from predators and survive. They have done pretty well for a rather long time. When the Arctic ice melts they will have a lot more to eat, and there will be more of them to be eaten. The same with polar bears and fish…. and people, if the bears have their druthers.

    Excess of ice kills everything. Literally.

    • reading the description of how the narwhal exhales excess co2 prior to dives i am surprised certain quarters are not demanding taxes be levied on areas with populations of narwhals .

  13. What you failed to consider is that Narwhals only “freeze” when the water temperature has risen past the boiling point driven by evil Carbon Dioxide and only in the presence of bad carbon-loving people. They instinctively recognize the peaceful intentions of scientists shooting them with harpoons to attach electronic devices to their flesh. :-/

    Yup, that was sarcasm for those who have no sarcasm detectors in their brain.

    I wonder if scientists have ever wondered what the ever greater number of them roaming about the Arctic in Ice Breakers is doing to the sea ice? And how scientists chasing after these poor animals might affect their behavior? It reminds me of the huge amphibian die-off blamed on the depleting ozone layer that turned out to be caused by a fungus the scientists were tracking about in pristine areas to study the remaining amphibians (who then died of the fungus, and so on).

  14. Look what the BBC left out! It was a sample of “stranded or captured narwhals.”l

    “An international team of scientists recorded the physiological and behavioral responses of nine stranded or captured narwhals immediately after their release and discovered that following a momentary period of disorientation, the animals displayed a flight and a freeze response. 

    “The narwhals exhibited both a downregulated heartbeat (characteristic of a “freeze” response) as well as an upregulated swimming stroke speed (characteristic of “flight”),” the study authors explained in a statement.”

    http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/narwhals-dont-handle-stress-well/

    Pardon the source but time is short and Googling is now biased.

    Some background on the alleged problem of too little ice. And “human disturbance.” Note that these quotas did not apply for thousands of years prior.

    “NEWS: Nunavut November 27, 2008 – 2:00 pm
    Hundreds trapped by ice
    Narwhal tragedy yields ‘harvest; for community
    JOHN BIRD
     
    As the ice closed in to a few small leads in the strait between Pond Inlet and Bylot Island, Inuit hunters worked long, hard hours to harvest stranded narwhals.
    The weather has been cold but clear and with no wind, a spokesman for the Pond Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization reported in a telephone interview. “Perfect for hunting.”
    The few remaining patches of open water where the narwhal became trapped while migrating through the strait is about 17 kms out from the community.
    As ice formed around the area, the narwhal – small tusked whales who have to surface frequently to breathe air – became trapped in the remaining leads, unable to make it to larger open water and safety.”
    “They will either drown or die of starvation,” Fisheries and Oceans Canada area director Keith Pelley said. “The greatest risk is they are going to drown as their breathing holes freeze over.”
    The alternative is the “humane harvest” the hunters are now operating by mutual agreement with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which has jurisdiction over marine mammals.
    “The community HTO has a well-organized hunt taking place,” Pelley said. “It’s under control and orderly and they are keeping the DFO up to date.”
    Up to 200 narwhal had been harvested by press-time, he said.
    “We don’t know how many narwhal there are,” the Pond Inlet spokesman explained.  “We won’t know until we have finished the harvest.”
    The normal quota for narwhal in the Eclipse Sound area harvested by Pond Inlet hunters is 130, and Pelley said local hunters had already taken about 90 animals before this group became trapped.
    But since the area contains about 20,000 narwhal, the DFO expects the impact of this extraordinary harvest to be minimal.”

    http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/Hundreds_trapped_by_ice/

    • Interesting link. Thanks.

      The people who claim open water at the Pole is a new thing seem to forget some of the bravest whalers on earth were Inuit, who headed out for whales in kayaks. How could they do that, without open water? For that matter, why invent kayaks, without open water?

      The people the Inuit replaced, the Dorset, apparently lacked boats and hunted by walking on sea-ice and hunting by air holes. One of the reasons for their demise and the success of the Inuit may have been there was too little ice, during the Medieval Warm Period.

  15. It does not take peer review for me to conclude that Narwhals are much smarter than the authors and reviewers of the paper in question. And obviously the whales are geniuses compared to the controlling editors of the journal that published it.

  16. The list of narwhal physiological adaptations is very impressive. Seems to indicate that random mutations are very powerful designers. Not in a million eons.

  17. “When these tusked whales are frightened …”

    I was curious to find out how you could frighten a whale with a built-in sword long enough to shish kebab at least half a dozen divers. So I looked in Wikipedia and found this: “Narwhals can live up to 50 years. They are often killed by suffocation when the sea ice freezes over.”

    Now if that is not a clear case for accelerating global warming I don’t know what is!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narwhal

  18. From the web:
    Terrie M. Williams, PhD is a comparative wildlife physiologist at the University of California- Santa Cruz. She is the Director of the Center for Marine Mammal Research and Conservation at UCSC. For the past 30 years her research has investigated the physiology of large mammalian predators.

    “astounding” in the quote “We’re riding the back of a narwhal for days with this technology and it’s just astounding to me,” could refer to what comes earlier in the sentence. Dr Williams has seen this kind of pattern before: https://news.ucsc.edu/2015/01/dive-response.html.

    Some humans have on occasion reported to me personally anxiety in reaction to *unusual* loud noises. I have no direct reports from narwhals. Loud noises that occur repeatedly cease to be unusual. The reaction may then change from anxiety to irritation. Subjectively I find anxiety more stressful than irritation.

    If we measure the impact of oil exploration activities on local mammals when that activity starts then we might observe a strong measurably harmful fear response. It would be wrong to assume the effect persists indefinitely over the life of the subjects. Once the subjects get used to it, the response may drop from anxiety to irritation, as seems to be the case with small children and fireworks for example.

    How are marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico and in the eastern North Sea coping with oil exploration and exploitation activities these days?

  19. “Historically, narwhals have not come into contact with much human disturbance, because they live mainly hidden among Arctic sea ice. But in recent decades, as the ice has declined, this is changing.” How many times have we heard this sad story only to find out that wild life adapts to their new enviironment. Spotted owls. Bald eagles, etc. Let’s see what happens. What ever happens regarding the ice is beyond our control.

  20. I am sure that the BBC followed their internal procedures before publishing this BS. I understand that CNN also follows strict internal procedures before releasing misleading stories.
    Well, if IPCC can do it why not everyone else,eh?

Comments are closed.