Narwhal face, image via How Stuff Works

Ah, narwhal, that unicorn of the seas. And I’m being literal here; in the middle ages especially, but somewhat after that too, narwhals were thought to be literal unicorns and they were hunted for their horns which were thought to have magical properties, up to and including being able to cure poisons. In truth it is actually a tusk, grown from its left canine. Very rarely a male narwhal will grow two tusks. A female narwhal will grow one tusk a little more often and ther’s only one recorded instance of a female narwhal growing two tusks. The tusk is mainly used to attract the females, like a peacock’s tail feathers.

The most notable thing about narwhals is how badly they’re affected by climate change. They live in a very narrow area surrounding the Arctic. They need breathing holes in the ice within some 1500 meters of each other. They can somewhat use their tusk to make holes in the ice, but not much as the holes need to be relatively large. Changing climate conditions are causing the sea ice to melt further in which is just fine for the narwhal until the wind dies down and ice starts to gather, quickly. At that point you get masses – I’m talking hundreds – of narwhals trapped under the ice without breathing holes and no chance of reaching one before they drown. And that’s just so sad that I can’t think of a cute ending to go out on.

Narwhals, image via National Geographic