Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Beginning an Arctic Journey

Narwhals have been filling my every waking hour lately.  The Arctic whale with the long spiral tusk is among the most unusual mammals on Earth, and they will face immense challenges in coming years as the Arctic ice upon which they depend continues to melt away.
 I became enamored of this remarkable whale as a kid, and my curiosity was rekindled by news reports several years ago.  Last summer I traveled to northern Canada and camped with researchers trying to catch the elusive animal, and I joined a subsistence hunt with native Inuit in northern Greenland (and celebrated its success by eating raw narwhal blubber).  I’ve spoken with narwhal biologists in Copenhagen and Seattle, with climatologists in Colorado, and even with a dentist in Connecticut who is studying the whale’s tusk.  The more I learn, the more intrigued I become. 
So I thought I’d share some of my exciting adventures and a bit about what I’ve learned in this blog, like how narwhal tusks helped to “prove” the existence of unicorns, how early explorers worried that narwhals could use their tusks to puncture their ships, and how narwhals are able to dive nearly a mile deep in the ocean to feed on halibut.  I’ll examine the whale’s most remarkable feature, its tusk – the most unusual tooth in the natural world – and the fierce disagreement between biologists and the dentist about its purpose.  And I hope you will share your thoughts, too, on the tusk, on the appropriateness of subsistence hunting, on the potential implications of the melting pack ice, and whatever else intrigues you about this creature.  Along the way I hope to discuss the Arctic environment, the other wildlife that share the ecosystem with the narwhal, and the intriguing people I met along the way. 
 I hope you’ll follow along with me to discover more about this amazing sea unicorn, and I welcome your comments and thoughts about why you think narwhals are one of the coolest animals on the planet.
To get us started and in the mood for a narwhal lovefest, check out this crazy animated video and song.  It seems that everywhere I go and raise the subject of the narwhal, someone starts to sing this song to me.  Very weird.

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