Unicorn of the Sea

What is a narwhal anyway?

The affectionate nickname “unicorn of the sea” should at least help you visualize one. I warn you though, the ones that call the Arctic home aren’t as cute as Mr. Narwhal from the movie Elf.

I find “unicorn of the sea” to be a rather odd moniker though, reminiscent of that brand of cans of another ocean dweller, the tuna. “Chicken of the Sea”, stamped with the image of a blonde mermaid, is no closer to being fowl than a narwhal is to a mystical quadruped. But, seeing as the narwhal’s tusk was once regarded as the horn of the unicorn, I guess it makes sense.

That one tusk, flaunted by all male narwhals, is actually an overgrown canine, growing in helix fashion. Thank goodness its appearance is widely accepted, I’d hate to see the bill for cosmetic dental surgery to remove a tooth skewering my upper lip. Most scientists believe the tusk’s only purpose is for mating, when the males use it in a show of dominance to win the heart of a fair female.

Imagine jousting meets water polo. In water well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s another reason I don’t envy the narwhal’s habitat. Frigid, ice-packed. Bleak. The food is good though. I’d eat lunch with a narwhal. Halibut, cod, shrimp and squid make up its daily fare, though I wonder how they manage it with only two teeth. Especially since one is eight feet long, and the other  vestigial. I have enough issues eating with twenty-eight, thank you.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, while this whale’s Latin name is Monodon Monoceros, the term “narwhal” has its roots in the Icelandic tongue.  “Nar” translates to “corpse”, and “hvalr” or “whal”, to whale.

So there you have it. Narwhals are nothing but a bunch of corpse-colored whales milling about off the coast of Russia and Iceland, rattling their sword-teeth as damsels in distress fret and look on.

If I was a narwhal, I’d prefer to be known as the “unicorn of the sea” too.

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© Andi Dobek 2015

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