Narwhals react to certain dangers in a really strange way | Science News

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Narwhals react to certain dangers in a really strange way

‘Unicorns of the sea’ fleeing humans show the physiological signs of also being frozen in fear

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2:41pm, December 7, 2017
narwhals

FREEZE AND FLEE  Narwhals, mammals known as “unicorns of the sea” for their single tusk, have another oddity: Their hearts slow to near-arrest during frantic flights into the deep.

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When escaping from humans, narwhals don’t just freeze or flee. They do both.

These deep-diving marine mammals have similar physiological responses to those of an animal frozen in fear: Their heart rate, breathing and metabolism slow, mimicking a “deer in the headlights” reaction. But narwhals (Monodon monoceros) take this freeze response to extremes. The animals decrease their heart rate to as slow as three beats per minute for more than 10 minutes, while pumping their tails as much as 25 strokes per minute during an escape dive, an international team of researchers reports in the Dec. 8 Science.

“That was astounding to us because there are other marine mammals that can have heart rates that low but not typically for that long a period of time, and especially not while they’re swimming as hard as they

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