Wild Fact #930 – The Unicorn of the Sea – Narwhal

Image by: National Geographic

Image by: National Geographic

Happy Friday everyone!  Today we are going to take a trip to the icy north (for me, it isn’t that long of a trip!) to learn about the unicorn of the sea.  Of course I am talking about the narwhal.  What is a narwhal you ask? Well, it is a whale that has two teeth.  You know, like the song!  All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth! I will get to the importance of these two teeth in a bit but first let’s introduce you to this special whale.

Narwhal’s are related to the dolphins, orca whales and belugas. Similar to other porpoises, they tend to travel in groups.  Usually in groups of 10 to 20 but some groups have been as large as 100’s and even 1000’s of narwhals. They tend to feed on shrimp, fish and squid but they don’t use those two teeth to chew their food.  Nope, they  just suck in their prey and swallow it whole. So where can you find these majestic whales?  Well, they hang out in the Arctic Ocean around Northern Canada and Greenland so you had better grab your parka and a toque if you want to go spot some narwhal’s.

So, I keep mentioning the two teeth of the narwhal.  This is simply because that long tusk on the front of the male narwhal is actually a tooth!  Imagine the dentist bill on that one!  In the male narwhal the left tooth will continue to grow right through their upper lip.  This ivory tooth can get as long as 3 meters (9′) looking similar to a spiral, sword.  On rare occasion both teeth will grow through the upper lip resulting in two tusks.  As well, the female may also grow a smaller version of this ivory tusk, however, that too is rare. As usual, the million dollar question is, “What are these tusks for?”.  I would love to tell you that the narwhal uses it to make fish and squid kabob’s or that they often use it to defend against predators but this is highly unlikely.  If these tusks ever broke off the narwhal would mostly likely perish due to infection.  The actual use of these tusks are not known, however, they are most likely a status symbol used to designate rank within the group and for mating purposes.  As well, male members will often joust in a friendly fashion with their specialized tooth.  This may be a way to greet each other or again to display dominance within the group. You can easily see why the narwhal is named the Unicorn of the Sea.

Narwhal Fast Fact: A long time ago people would sell the tusks of the narwhal claiming it was a unicorn horn.  Believe it or not they would get 10 times their weight in gold for this tooth. As well, they would get what ever the Tooth Fairy left them under their pillow.

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