Unicorn of the Sea
Like the horned white horses of
ancient lore, narwhals, called
the unicorns of the sea, are
mythical—or at least nearly so. In
remote areas around the Canadian
Arctic and Greenland, these elusive
whales dwell in an ice-covered region
cloaked in darkness for half the year.
Most people recognize narwhals
by their famous long tusk. But when
asked to explain the tusk’s purpose,
most people don’t have a clue. Even
scientists aren’t fully sure. But such
a prominent feature—a 9-foot (2.7 m)
tooth—doesn’t arise by chance and
keep getting passed down as a defining
family feature unless there’s a reason.
We just don’t know what it is yet.
One thing is certain: our imaginative
Creator God made all kinds of
“great sea creatures” on day five of creation
week, and the amazing variety of
their descendants continually invites
us to explore them further.
Long in the Tooth
What do we know? The tusk is actually
a giant canine tooth, like those on
walruses, hippopotamuses, and elephants.
But unlike animals with curved
tusks, the narwhal sports the only
straight tusk in the world. And what a
tusk! It can grow to over half of the narwhal’s
average length of 15 feet (4.5 m).
Though mostly male narwhals grow
tusks, around 15% of females also
develop them. When it comes in, the
tusk protrudes through the narwhal’s
upper lip and grows in a spiral design.
(Adding to the strangeness, it’s the only
tooth that erupts through their gums.)
The structure of the narwhal’s tooth
is very different from ours. In fact, if
you consider our teeth the standard,
the narwhal’s tooth is inside out. God
designed our teeth with an outside
layer of enamel—the hardest substance
in the body. Enamel shields the next
layer, the dentin, which contains millions
of microscopic tubes that make it
elastic and porous. Dentin forms a protective
barrier for the sensitive inner
part of the tooth, the pulp. The pulp
contains nerve tissue, which no human
wants exposed. Let’s just say if the dentist’s
drill hits the pulp, it’s not pretty!
The narwhal’s tooth is distinct from
ours, with a flexible, sensitive outer
layer and a rigid inner layer. Cementum,
a durable, porous substance, covers the
dentin. Like the dentin on human teeth,
thousands of tiny channels run to the
nerve-containing central pulp.
Tooth or False?
It seems the purpose of such a
unique tooth would be obvious, but
researchers can only take stabs at how
narwhals use their tusk.
While frolicking in the cold water,
males stick their tusks straight up
out of the water and even wave them
around, perhaps in some kind of communicative
display. Sometimes they
cross their tusks peacefully, but some
bear scars from “sword fights,” leading
scientists to believe that the tusks are
used, to some extent, for sexual display.
Though researchers still debate the main purpose of
narwhals’ unusual tusks, males
sometimes spar with them.
The most intriguing hypothesis
comes from a research dentist who
conducted tests on captured narwhals.
When he poured fresh or salty water
on a tusk, the narwhal’s heart rate
increased as if it were stressed or stimulated.
From this test, researchers suppose
that the hypersensitive tusk can
detect changes in water temperature,
pressure, and even salinity.
Because salt concentration fluctuates
in freezing or thawing seawater,
narwhals might use their tusk as a
sensory device to determine if they are
near freezing or closing ice. After diving
thousands of feet for halibut and
flounder, narwhals have little time to
find air when they return to the surface
under the ice. Could the tusk help
them lock in on a small opening in the
ice at the last minute?
Recently, drone footage revealed
another interesting scenario. Narwhals
were filmed striking fish with
their tusks before swallowing down
the stunned prey. Perhaps this tusk is
a multipurpose tool for the narwhal,
like a Swiss Army knife.
Getting to the Point
In many ways, the narwhal is just
another whale, in the same family as
belugas. Narwhals and belugas can, in
fact, interbreed, so it appears that they
belong to the same created kind. The
narwhal’s distinctive tusk may have
arisen later, among the varied descendants
of the original whales. Although
we cannot rule out an ancestral tusk
for toothed whales, it seems likely that
the tusk arose later. But we don’t find
any fossil remains of narwhals until
very recently, long after Noah’s flood.
Since evolutionists can’t even
explain what the tusk is for, they have
a challenge trying to explain how this
strange feature arose and persisted for
millions of years. Creationists, on the
other hand, know from God’s Word that
he designed all things for a purpose,
and he gave many creatures the genetic
ability to diversify and fill diverse habitats,
such as the cold Arctic (which may
not have existed before the flood).
Like so many other creatures with
unusual features—such as the armored
pangolin, the proboscis monkey with
the over-sized nose, and the duck-billed
platypus—the narwhal’s eccentric tusk
magnifies God’s creativity and challenges
us to reconsider our assumptions
about the way things should be.
Unlike the elusive unicorn of the sea
and the mystery of its tusk, God’s glory
is evident throughout his creation.
Did You Know . . .
The narwhal’s tooth has a hypersensitive outer
layer that researchers think can detect changes
in water temperature, pressure, and even salinity.
Some narwhals grow two tusks, but the right one
usually extends asymmetrically to the left one.
Narwhals communicate by clicks and other noises.
Some sound like squeaky doors or deflating whoopee
cushions. These sounds can be unique to each individual.
The narwhal’s tusk is the only tusk with a spiral twist,
fueling stories that a unicorn tusk does exist in nature.
Narwhal means “corpse whale,”
alluding to the whale’s white skin.
The narwhal’s tusk is actually a giant
canine tooth that can grow to over
half of the narwhal’s average length
of 15 feet (4.5 m).
A Danish king commissioned a
throne to be built of narwhal
tusks for a coronation
in 1671. The throne can
still be viewed during
tours of Rosenborg Castle
in Copenhagen, Denmark.
University, earned his PhD from Wayne State University and
completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of
Michigan Medical School.
https://answersingenesis.org/aquatic-animals/unicorn-sea/ This article originally appeared on answersingenesis.org