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The Narwhal in Truth and Legend

April 24, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 200

Polar holidays are a fantastic opportunity to see some of the world's most impressive and interesting animals, and the Narwhal is undoubtedly one of these. With their long, spiralling tusks, Narwhal have fascinated and perplexed us throughout the ages. Although we know a great deal about their biology and behaviour today, they continue to intrigue scientists and nature-lovers, and their presence in the waters of the Arctic only adds to the allure of polar holidays. For an introduction to these singular creatures, and the ways humans have been inspired by them through the ages, read on.

Narwhal Facts

Anyone hoping for Narwhal sightings on their polar holidays will have no trouble identifying these striking animals when they appear. The Narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is a toothed whale, found in the Arctic waters of Canada and Greenland. It is immediately recognisable by its single elongated incisor, which is often referred to as a tusk or horn. Some individuals have two tusks, although this is rare. It is this tusk, which can grow up to three metres long, which has made them the subject of so much speculation and study. Male Narwhal have been observed 'tusking' - rubbing their tusks against each other - which suggests the function of the tusk is likely to be related to hierarchy, helping to denote rank, or in performances of prowess in mating rituals. But we still have a lot to learn about these and other possible uses of the tusk. Their feeding behaviour changes with the seasons, spending their summers in shallow ice-free waters, and their winters in deep offshore waters. These waters are often under ice, so they have to find fissures to surface from their long, deep dives [which can reach 1,500 metres]. Narwhal are traditionally and sustainably hunted by the Inuit people, but are thought to be under serious threat by climate change. Polar holidays are one way to raise awareness about these unique creatures and the importance of conserving them.

Narwhal Legends

Before the Narwhal was widely known to Europeans, its tusk was frequently mistaken for the horn of a unicorn, and, as the magical properties of unicorn horns were legendary, Narwhal skulls fetched a high price. Unicorn horns were believed to cure poison, and the tusks were therefore turned into supposedly poison-cancelling cups. Thanks, no doubt, in part to its otherworldly appearance, the Narwhal has been afforded mythical status even in cultures where it has always been well-known. The Inuit oral tradition carries several variants on a story about a woman who transformed into a Narwhal. In most versions, a woman with long hair is in conflict with another member of her family, and either falls or is pushed into the water, or is pulled in by a harpooned whale; the motion of the water or the pull of the rope cause her to spin, thus corkscrewing her hair into a horn and turning her into a Narwhal.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you're looking for polar holidays, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to polar holidays and other spectacular regions on Earth.

Source: EzineArticles
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