Narwhal, state of conservation and curiosity



by   |  VIEW 146

Narwhal, state of conservation and curiosity

Narwhals rarely leave the Arctic Sea. They have been sighted a short distance from the North Pole and the southern limit of their range is around 70° North, roughly at the level of the North Cape, Norway, and Barrow, Alaska.

Narwhals, however, do move south from time to time; some have sometimes stranded on the coasts of Great Britain and the Netherlands. Generally they live in small groups, sometimes up to 50 units, but these can still associate to give rise, here and there, to very numerous groups, of several thousand units.

These, in turn, can be mixed or divided by s*x. Narwhals are able to swim quite quickly and, when they come to the surface, they breathe with a high-pitched whistle, and then remain motionless on the surface of the water for a few minutes before diving back down.

Narwhals are quite common, as they are not subjected to a close hunt like that of whales, due to the extreme difficulty of accessing the Arctic region. In summer the narwhals move to bays and sometimes upriver. One of them has been found even about 1000 km from the mouth of the Yukon River.

Sometimes, however, they remain trapped in the bays blocked by the ice which progressively covers the entire inlet.

Narwhal, state of conservation and curiosity

Narwhals are normally preyed upon by killer whales or polar bears and, according to some accounts, even walruses are capable of killing them.

Eskimos and other peoples living near the Arctic Sea catch narwhals, with harpoons or nets, for their meat, blubber, skin and tusks. The leather is valuable for making straps, as it remains elastic both when wet and when frozen.

Furthermore, it is also eaten raw for its vitamin C content, of which the normal Eskimo diet is rather deficient. Numerous hypotheses had been advanced in the past regarding the use of the narwhal tusk. It was believed that it could be used as a weapon to attack other narwhals, or even boats, or to make breathing holes in ice or to harpoon fish.

These last two hypotheses can be easily refuted since, if the tusk were used for this purpose, the females would also have them. Scholars have not yet managed to give a definitive answer to this question in the absence of in-depth studies on the matter.

Recent studies that have analyzed the structure of the narwhal tusk on an anatomical level have suggested that it may function as a sensory organ, in order to detect information from the environment, such as the salt concentration in the water.