Narwhals use highly targeted beams of sound to scan their environment for threats and food. In fact, the so-called unicorns of the sea (for their iconic head tusks) may produce the most refined sonar of any living animal.
An international team of researchers set up 16 underwater microphones to eavesdrop on narwhal click vocalizations at 11 pack ice sites in Greenland’s Baffin Bay in 2013. The recordings show that narwhal clicks are extremely intense and directional. Narwhals can widen and narrow the beam of sound to find prey over long and short distances. It’s the most targeted sonar signal measured in a living species, the researchers report November 9 in PLOS ONE.
The sound beams are asymmetric,