Listen on

Episode notes

Ahoy, my sea whisperers, and welcome back! Today we go to the depths of the Arctic seas, to explore a creature both mystical and beautiful - sometimes referred to as the sea unicorn, today’s word is: narwhal. A narwhal is a type of whale found in Canadian Arctic, Greenlandian, and Russian waters, that is distinctive due to the tusk that protrudes from its head. It is, in fact, a canine tooth that projects from the left side of the upper jaw, through the lip, and forms a left-handed helix spiral. The tusk is found in around fifteen percent of female narwhals but is far less common. It has been deduced that the tusk has no critical function, as females live to be the same age or longer, but proposed functions include use of the tusk as a weapon, for opening breathing holes in sea ice, in feeding, and as an acoustic organ. They have been known to dive as deep as 800 meters up to fifteen times a day, and have been recorded diving as deep as 1500 meters, one of the deepest known dives of all marine animals. Narwhals do not have a dorsal fin, which is perhaps an evolutionary adaptation to swimming easily under ice, to facilitate rolling, or to reduce surface area and heat loss. The word ‘narwhal’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘nár’, meaning ‘corpse’ and ‘hvalr’ meaning ‘whale’. This is supposedly in reference to the whale’s pigmentation, which is grey and mottled, similar to that of a drowned sailor. Adding to the comparison of this cheery image is the narwhal’s summertime habit of ‘logging’, where the whale will lie still at or near the surface of the sea. The scientific name, ‘Monodon monoceros’, is of Greek derivation, and means ‘one-tooth, one-horn’, where ‘mono’ means ‘one’, ‘don’ means ‘tooth’ - as in orthodontist, and ‘ceros’ means ‘horn’ - as in rhinoceros. (the ‘rhino’ in rhinoceros means ‘nose’ as in ‘rhinoplasty’.)   Isn’t language wonderful? Written by Taylor Davidson, Read by Zane C Weber Subscribe to us on ITUNES, STITCHER, SPOTIFY, or your podcatcher of choice. Find us on FACEBOOK or TWITTER Become a Patron of That’s Not Canon Productions at Patreon! Email us at [email protected]  

See for privacy and opt-out information.