7
Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 23. Narwhals

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Alix writes:

Narwhals are rarely seen and their lifestyle is poorly documented. They live in the Arctic but churlishly avoid Siberia and Alaska. Their most distinctive feature is their ridiculous tusk. Only the males have this tusk (females being toothless), and it is actually a tooth that has grown through the upper lip. Narwhals are around sixteen feet in length, and the tusk is 7-10 feet long, which is an absurd body to tusk ratio. Sometimes two teeth grow through the lip, and twist round each other, forming a spiral tusk.

The unicorn legend is reinforced by the existence of narwhals. Sightings of narwhals have been reported as sightings of unicorns and travellers have returned with narwhal horns and passed them off as unicorn horns. If you grind up the tusk it makes magic powder. However, you can only buy the tusk using magic beans. Or on the black market. Tusks retail at around ’2300 and can be used for magic purposes or you can make them into goblets.

Nobody is sure what the tusk is used for (whilst still attached to the narwhal) – there are suggestions that it is used during courtship rituals as a crazily lethal submarine jousting weapon, or that it is used to obtain food. To my disappointment all of the websites I visited were certain that it isn’t used for killing. My favourite is the suggestion is that it is used to channel and amplify sonar pulses. The clicks and trills that they use to communicate are deafening to the human ear. No one has ever been physically attacked by a narwhal, but no statistics are available regarding deafenings inflicted by narwhal. They eat squid, halibut and flatfish. Again, no one is sure how they kill their prey but its been suggested that they make a really loud noise and stun their prey.

The meaning of ‘narwhal’ in Old Norse is ‘corpse whale’, derived either from its cadaverous skin, or from its tendency to float motionless, belly up, for long periods. They are insulated by 4 inches of blubber and the largest narwhal ever eeighed 3500 pounds. That’s approximately equivalent to 116 Andy Fordhams, plus a few of Girls Aloud.

Narwhals are hunted by the Inuit (Inuit is another word for Eskimo). The Inuit call them qilalugat tugaliit. That’s actually true; I haven’t just sat on the keyboard. They burn the oil, feed the meat to sled dogs and eat the skin as it is packed with Vitamin C, and according to one website ‘tastes like seafood’ (Surely it is seafood? It lives in the sea after all). Polar bears, orcas, sharks and walruses also hunt narwhal. In a race between a narwhal and a killer whale the narwhal would win. If the killer whale overtakes, it will ram the narwhal head on, knocking it unconscious, then eat the narwhal. That’s the reason why narwhals are in this list and Free Willy isn’t.

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