Since the age of the Roman Empire and the story of how the twins Romulus and Remus were raised by a wolf, tales of interspecies adoptions have captivated the human imagination.
Since the age of the Roman Empire and the story of how the twins Romulus and Remus were raised by a wolf, tales of interspecies adoptions have captivated the human imagination. The story that emerged from Canada’s St. Lawrence River in July of 2018 was no exception. While researching belugas, a group of scientists captured drone footage of a young male narwhal, more than 1,000 kilometres south of his Arctic home, swimming with a pod of belugas.
It sounds like something straight out of Disney’s Finding Nemo. But in the three years since the narwhal was first spotted with his adopted family, this real life drama has been playing out in the waters of the St. Lawrence estuary. And the unlikely alliance has researchers scratching their heads.
The cause of this consternation? A funny word called “adoption.”
In the human realm, adoption is seen as a benevolent act, but in the wild it poses a real evolutionary dilemma. This is because the goal of every organism in the natural world is to reproduce and transfer its genes to future generations. Adoption is puzzling because it requires an individual to invest resources into another’s offspring, with no guarantee of passing on its own genetic material. Despite this, adoption is well-documented across the animal kingdom.
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Image via University of Guelph.