7 Fascinating Facts About Narwhals

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

There are few creatures I find so fascinating as the narwhal. Like many tusked animals, this arctic whale has a majestic quality to it. In medieval times, its long, straight tusk was often given to royalty, passed off as a “unicorn horn.” In the 16th century, a narwhal tusk worth £10,000 was given to Queen Elizabeth. Today, the narwhal still holds our interest, and its tusk remains one of the most mysterious things about these creatures. Here’s what we know about them.

1. Its tusk is actually a tooth

While it might appear to be situated in the center of its head, the narwhal’s tusk is actually an exaggerated front left tooth that protrudes from the upper lip. The right front tooth is small, and usually remains in the mouth. Stranger still, while most teeth (including human teeth) have a hard exterior and a soft, sensitive interior, narwhal teeth are the opposite. “No big surprise. It's been opposite in every other way,” Martin Nweeia, a clinical instructor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, told NPR after making this discovery. “But to find a tooth that is soft on the outside and has its most dense part around the pulp was completely odd.”

2. The tusk can grow to be 10 feet long

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Narwhal tusks grow throughout the animals’ entire lives and can reach incredible lengths. While the tusk as a whole is straight—the only straight tusk we know of, in fact—a closer look reveals that as it grows, it spirals to the left.

3. It can bend about a foot before breaking

Its tough core and soft outer layer result in a tusk that is both strong and flexible. It can bend significantly without cracking, which is important for a tusk as long as the narwhal’s.

4. We’re not entirely sure what it’s for

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History has numerous explanations for the narwhal’s massive tusk. One theory is that it can be used as a weapon, though this claim lacks sufficient evidence. Another suggests it is an accessory for finding mates and asserting dominance, much like peacock feathers or deer antlers. But the most recent theory, produced by Nweeia and his team, suggests it acts as a sort of environmental sensor. According Nweeia’s research, the tusk is porous and full of nerves, taking in external stimuli like water pressure, temperature, and salinity, and sending information back to the brain. To test this theory, Nweeia fitted narwhals with a kind of “jacket” that insulated the tusk from environmental factors. Then, researchers pumped the jacket full of water samples of varying salinity levels to mimic different kinds of sea ice. They found that different levels of salinity caused the narwhals’ heart rates to fluctuate, indicating they could sense the change and had a physical reaction to it. “But regardless of the reason, the results suggest that narwhals can funnel water into their tusks to measure its salt concentration,” Nweeia said.

5. Not all narwhals have tusks

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In most tusked animals, the tusks appear in both males and females. However, in narwhals, only the males and about 15 percent of females have tusks. This is confusing to researchers. If indeed the narwhal tusk is a mechanism for sensing the environment, as recent studies suggest, why wouldn’t such an evolutionary trait be inherited by females as well? This perhaps lends more evidence to the theory that the tusk is mainly an accessory for garnering attention and establishing dominance among males.

6. Their skin is rich in vitamin C

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In fact, there is roughly as much vitamin C in one ounce of narwhal skin as there is in one ounce of oranges. Narwhal skin is a primary source of vitamins for the Inuit people of the Arctic. According to the BBC, “without the narwhal it is doubtful whether the Inuit would have survived in some parts of the Arctic.”

7. There are none in captivity

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Unlike their close relatives, beluga whales, narwhals do not thrive in captivity. In the '60s and '70s, several attempts at capturing and keeping narwhals resulted in all of the animals dying within several months. In fact, all narwhals kept in captivity have died. Some animals simply aren’t meant to be captured.

6 Explosive Fart Controversies

iStock/MaryValery
iStock/MaryValery

Last week, the world of professional darts became embroiled in controversy after a player competing in the quarter finals of a major tournament partly blamed his loss on his opponent’s noxious flatulence. The loser, Wesley Harms, told the Dutch television station RTL7, "It’ll take me two nights to lose this smell from my nose." (Harms’s rival Gary Anderson denied being the fart’s founder, saying, "It was bad. It was a stink. It thought it was him, and he started playing better, I went, 'He must needed to get some wind out.'") Now that the niche world of competitive darts is clouded in Fartgate, it seems like an appropriate time to step outside and dutifully reminisce on a few other gassy controversies.

1. German police fine man over $1000 for letting it rip

In 2016, police in Berlin detained a man at a party and asked for his ID. Instead of offering his name, the man gave the police a whiff of his unique perfume, sending two rocketing farts in the direction of the officers. The police summarily fined the offender €900 (just over $1000) for disrespecting law enforcement. The ensuing "Crazy Toot Trial" would involve 23 officials and prompt a public outcry over wasteful public spending.

2. Fart sparks regime-change in Ancient Egypt

Around 570 BCE, the Egyptian Pharaoh King Apries had a problem: Invaders had slaughtered some of his soldiers and people's morale was low. So Apries sent his best general, Amasis, to quell the troops' discontent. Instead, the troops rallied around Amasis and declared him their personal king. When King Apries sent a messenger to accost Amasis, Amasis let out a fart and effectively said, "You can send that message back to the king!" Hearing this, King Apries unwisely decided to punish his messenger. That decision made King Apries even more unpopular and gave the gassy Amasis a chance to stage a revolt and successfully oust his old boss.

3. Cargo plane makes emergency stop because of reported goat gas

In 2015, a Singapore Airlines cargo flight was forced to make an emergency stop in Bali after more than 2000 goats reportedly filled the cargo hold with too many toots, setting off the fire alarm. "The smoke indication was identified to be the result of exhaust gases and manure produced by the sheep," The Aviation Herald reported. Despite this initial report, Singapore Airlines refused to acknowledge that the cause of the stopover was fart-related.

4. Fart fuels mid-flight fight

On a 2018 flight from Dubai to Amsterdam, a Transavia Airlines plane had to make an unscheduled stop in Vienna after an elderly man refused to stop cutting the cheese—even after receiving instructions from the pilot to cease firing. The man's stinkers fueled so much consternation among the surrounding passengers that a fight broke out, prompting police to remove four people from the flight.

5. Canada's Parliament debates the appropriateness of saying "fart"

In November 2016, Canada’s parliament began to spontaneously debate whether it was appropriate for members to use the word fart on the chamber floor. The discussion rose after Conservative MP Michelle Rempel asked, “Why does the government treat Alberta like a fart in the room that nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge?” Eventually, the rules regarding “unparliamentary language” had to be read aloud and the offense was taken under advisement. (You can read a transcript of the exchange here.)

6. Secret Service takes the blame for Presidential retarade

The Secret Service will not only take a bullet for the president, they’ll also take the blame for the Commander-in-Chief’s errant cheek squeaks: Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States, would often fart and blame it on his Secret Service agents, loudly saying, "Jesus, was that you? Show some class." (This must have come as a shock to Lyndon B. Johnson, who once said, “Jerry Ford is so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.")

Every New Movie, Series, Documentary, and Special That's Coming to Netflix in December

Alfonso Cuarón directs Roma (2018)
Alfonso Cuarón directs Roma (2018)
Carlos Somonte, Netflix

Netflix has made no secret of its desire to bring top-tier entertainment to streaming devices around the world. After successfully testing the waters with a range of critically acclaimed series, from Stranger Things to The Crown, the streaming giant is now making a major push into the feature film market—which we’ll see play out in December with the release of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box.

Much has already been made about how these films, along with the Coen Brothers’ recently-recently The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, are disrupting the line between streaming and cinemas. How will it all play out come Oscar time? We’ll just have to wait to see.

In the meantime, here’s every new movie, television series, documentary, and comedy special making its way to Netflix in December.

DECEMBER 1

8 Mile
Astro Boy
Battle
Bride of Chucky
Christine
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Crossroads: One Two Jaga
Friday
Friday After Next
Hellboy
Man vs Wild with Sunny Leone: Season 1
Meet Joe Black
Memories of the Alhambra
My Bloody Valentine
Next Friday
Reindeer Games
Seven Pounds
Shaun of the Dead
Terminator Salvation
The Big Lebowski
The Last Dragon
The Man Who Knew Too Little

DECEMBER 2

The Lobster

DECEMBER 3

Blue Planet II: Season 1
Hero Mask
The Sound of Your Heart: Reboot Season 2

DECEMBER 4

District 9

DECEMBER 6

Happy!: Season 1

DECEMBER 7

5 Star Christmas
Bad Blood
Dogs of Berlin
Dumplin'
Free Rein: The Twelve Neighs of Christmas
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
Nailed It! Holiday!
Pine Gap
ReMastered: Who Killed Jam Master Jay?
Super Monsters and the Wish Star
The American Meme
The Hook Up Plan (Plan Coeur)
The Ranch: Part 6

DECEMBER 9

Sin senos sí hay paraíso: Season 3

DECEMBER 10

Michael Jackson's This Is It

DECEMBER 11

Vir Das: Losing It

DECEMBER 12

Back Street Girls: Gokudols
Out of Many, One

DECEMBER 13

Wanted: Season 3

DECEMBER 14

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: "A Midwinter's Tale"
Cuckoo: Season 4
Dance & Sing with True: Songs
Fuller House: Season 4
Inside the Real Narcos: Series 1
Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons: Season 3
Prince of Peoria: A Christmas Moose Miracle
Roma
Sunderland Til I Die
The Fix
The Innocent Man
The Protector
Tidelands
Travelers: Season 3
Voltron: Legendary Defender: Season 8

DECEMBER 16

Baby Mama
Kill the Messenger
One Day
Springsteen on Broadway
The Theory of Everything

DECEMBER 18

Baki
Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable
Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 5

DECEMBER 21

3Below: Tales of Arcadia
7 Days Out
Back With the Ex
Bad Seeds
Bird Box
Wolf (Boru)
Derry Girls
Diablero
Greenleaf: Season 3
Last Hope: Part 2
Perfume
Sirius the Jaeger
Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski
Tales by Light: Season 3
The Casketeers

DECEMBER 24

Hi Score Girl
The Magicians: Season 3

DECEMBER 25

Watership Down: Limited Series
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Season 11
Marvel Studios' Avengers: Infinity War

DECEMBER 26

Alexa & Katie: Season 2
You

DECEMBER 28

Instant Hotel
La noche de 12 anos
Selection Day
When Angels Sleep
Yummy Mummies

DECEMBER 30

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

DECEMBER 31

The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man

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