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Monodon Monoceros or The Narwhal
I remember seeing this huge unicorn horn in a museum, when I was a kid. It was about 9 ft long with beautiful spiraled grooves and was really the tusk of a narwhal.
It didn't ruin the illusion finding out it wasn't a unicorn horn, after all a whale with a horn is pretty special too.
I became interested in narwhals after finding an illustration of a unicorn and some narwhals that I wanted to use as a prompt for a piece of fiction. I thought I'd better do a little Narwhal research in case the beasties became more integral to my story.
A Whale By Any Other Name...
The word Narwhal apparently means "corpse whale" in old Norse.
Nice! I wonder why they chose that name?
Maybe the Narwhal glides through the water like a silent wraith. Perhaps the Vikings thought they'd be mince meat if they fell into the water amidst those long spiraling horns. Perhaps it's because they killed so many of them for their "unicorn horns". Perhaps it's the narwhal's pale coloring that inspires the name.
The "official" name for the Narwhal is Monodon monoceros which translates as "one tooth, one horn". Although to get technical, the Narwhal have two teeth and in the males (very very rarely in the females) one of those teeth will burst through the narwhal's face and become a long spiraling horn.
What's the horn for?
Well read on and you just might find out!
Are narwhals the source of the legend behind unicorns?
Although recently I've seen images of animals, like deer, with only one horn.
Which Horned Animal is the Best?
Amongst their many other crimes, Vikings used to sell Narwhal tusks to other Europeans, telling them that they were actually unicorn horns.
Narwhal tusks sold for many times their weight in gold because of the Vikings' silver tongues!
Narwhal Size Comparison
As you can see above Narwhals' bodies are approximately two Vikings long.
They usually grow up to about 13 to 20 ft ( that's 4 to 6.1 m for all you metric users) and weigh around 3,500 lbs (1,600 kg).
They're one of the smaller whales and are more closely related to bottle-nose dolphins, belugas, porpoises, and orcas rather than your enormous blue whales.
Three Narwhals I Drew From Life... Honest
Had enough of the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt? Why not get the Narwhal alternative?
This t-shirt sports 4 glorious narwhals and is made out of 100% cotton.
P.S. The reviews on this t-shirt are pretty funny.
The Narwhal's Tooth
The Narwhal's horn is actually a tooth which protrudes out of the face, near the mouth, not coming out of the top of his head like a rhino's horn (or the traditional idea of a unicorn).
Narwhals actually have two teeth but only one of them usually grows into a horn, however check out the two teeth below which have both had the opportunity to grow out fully. Check out the length of those horns in comparison to the size of the narwhal's skull!
But what is it for and why has it grown so long?
Well, narwhals aren't expert fencers, although they do occasionally cross swords.
If I ask you to drink a hot drink and then have an ice cream straight afterwards some of you will shudder in horror! That's because teeth are sensitive! Some believe that the narwhal uses its sensitive tooth to detect changes in its environment.
A Double-Horned Narwhal Skull
Want to find a Narwhal?
Well you're going to have to go North.
Narwhals can be found in Arctic coastal waters and rivers. Try looking in the Atlantic and Russian bits of the Arctic.
Maybe you will see one in the north of the Hudson Bay area, the Hudson straight and Baffin Bay.
Perhaps you'll find one of these aquatic unicorns off the east coast of Greenland and between the northern end of Greenland and the east of Russia.
The best places to look are in the fjords and inlets of Norther Canada and western Greenland.
Awwwww! This is so adorable! Why would you not want a plushy narwhal?
Why not make a change to the traditional little girl's unicorn bedroom and have a Narwhal themed bedroom instead? Maybe your little girl will grow up to be a world famous marine biologist.
Alternatively if you have a boy and a girl get them the Narwhal vs Unicorn playset and watch them battle it out! It's probably better than Chinese burns *glares at own older brother*.
According to Inuit legend Narwhals didn't have horns (or tusks) until a woman was dragged into the ocean by a narwhal she'd harpooned.
She turned into a narwhal herself and her long twist of hair became the spiralled horn of the Narwhal.
I don't know about you, but I couldn't eat a whole one.
The Inuit people are legally allowed to hunt narwhals, which is good because they're an important source of vitamin c.
Narwhals are also hunted by polar bears and Killer Whales (Orcas) and walruses!
Although narwhals aren't endangered yet they're considered to be one of the animals most likely to perish during climate change. I imagine this is because they spend all year in colder waters, and their winters under dense ice, using their tusks to break through.
But what do Narwhals eat?
Narwhals eat squid, shrimp, fish (like cod and halibut) and sometimes the occasional rock finds its way into their stomach - maybe that is the Narwhal equivalent on having a balloon fitted!