Object of the Week – The Narwhal


The narwhal (Monodon Monoceros) is a medium-sized toothed whale to be found in the Arctic, primarily off Canada and Greenland. It feeds mainly on flatfish, shrimp and squid up to 1,500 metres below the pack ice, can live up to 50 years and grow up to 5 metres long.

The male’s upper left canine has developed into long, straight, hollow tusk, which is not used for hunting. The tusk’s function and that of it’s unusual spiral formation is uncertain, it may be used as a formidable jousting weapon in courtship and dominance rivalry, and/or for amplifying sonar pulses which they emit, as these are very social and communicative animals.

The scientific name is derived from the Greek: “one-tooth one-horn” or “one-toothed unicorn”.

Some medieval Europeans believed narwhal tusks to be the horns from the legendary unicorn, with possible magical properties to cure poison and melancholia.

This complete skeleton was one of the earlier objects to be collected by the museum having come into our possession in 1825, the gift of Thomas Brodrick junior, of a local whaling family.

The images show the narwhal in it’s current position, an older image showing it hanging from the centre of the gallery and a close up of narwhal tusks showing their unusual spiral formation.

Close up of narwhal tusks showing their unusual spiral formation

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