The Chaos of Whales

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Narwhals are elusive creatures by nature, which has made it challenging for scientists to study them as they go about their business under the Arctic’s sea ice.

The whales are known for their deep dives to nearly 1.2 miles below the surface and their dependence on sea ice.

Now, though, a research team was able to get an idea of the whale’s irregular daily routine through the use of chaos theory, Science Alert reported.

For their study, scientists placed a satellite-linked time-depth recorder on a male narwhal’s back off the coast of East Greenland. They then devised a method for making sense of chaotic behavior in dynamic contexts by employing mathematical tactics taken from chaos theory – known as the study of activity that appears unpredictable, yet is governed by strict sets of laws.

After recording the animal’s movement for 83 days, the team uncovered an unusual daily pattern, including peculiar details about how those habits can be influenced by variables such as seasonal change.

One of their key findings showed the narwhal altered its patterns in response to the prevalence of sea ice: Surface activity decreased when ice was more prevalent and the marine mammal also exhibited more intense diving behavior.

The study could help scientists and conservationists learn more about the narwhal’s habits, an animal that has not been listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – even though it is considered to be vulnerable to human activities and climate change.

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