The narwhal, also known to many show-off scientists as the Monodon monoceros, is a toothed whale that is easily distinguishable by its elongated left incisor that protrudes out from its upper lip like a tusk.

Conveniently known as ‘tusking’, narwhals will tussle together in what is one of the most placid and painstakingly boring exhibits of fencing you will ever likely see. Despite the tusks (2-3 metres long) initially proving a daunting sight, they are predominantly used for little more than what is suspected to be either a weird mating procession or a somewhat uninspiring display of superiority amongst males.

Source: Wikimedia commons

Even Sir David Attenborough is yet to work out the exact meaning of this strange ritual. Considering the lack of conclusive evidence, it may well be a long time yet before we are made aware of its true purpose.

Roughly one in every 500 or so male narwhals will dual-wield tusks due to an anomaly in which their right incisors, usually insignificant in size, will partner their left and become a force to reckon with.

Traditionally, narwhals have been harvested for meat and ivory over thousands of years by Inuit people situated near the main hub of narwhals in Northern Canada and Greenland. Inuit people legally hunt the whale for its subsistence, eating its meat, skin and organs while treating narwhal blubber as a delicacy. Even narwhal bones are used in the construction of tools.

Source: Globe photo

Along with Inuits, narwhals have attracted the unwanted attention of polar bears and packs of killer whales, possibly the most terrifyingly efficient hunters in the sea. Despite multiple threats to their continued existence coming from common predators, narwhals are one of the most vulnerable Arctic marine mammals to the perils of climate change

Richard Withers

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