Narwhal, the "unicorn of the sea", is known for its massive tusk that inspired the unicorn myth

Kirsty Kendall

Narwhal is a medium-sized toothed whale. Narwhals live in the Arctic waters of Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia.

Thanks to its spiraled tusk, the narwhal looks like a mix between a unicorn and a whale. That's why we call the narwhal the "unicorn of the sea".

The narwhal tusk is an enlarged tooth

The narwhal tusk is often confused with a horn. That's not surprising, considering that the narwhal tusk looks like a unicorn horn.

In reality, the narwhal tusk is an enlarged tooth. It can grow 10 feet long. The tusk grows throughout a narwhal's life. It has a sensory capability.

Most male narwhals have a tusk. Some narwhals are known to have two tusks. Female narwhals can sometimes grow a tusk, but it is smaller than the male's tusk.

There is video evidence that narwhals use their tusks for hunting:

However, most female narwhals don't have tusks, so the tusk cannot be necessary for survival.

Scientists are uncertain of the purpose of the narwhal tusk. They believe it allows male narwhals to exert their dominance.

The narwhal tusk inspired the unicorn myth

The "unicorn of the sea" played a role in the birth of the modern unicorn myth.

In the Middle Ages, people drank from cups that were said to have got made of unicorn horns. Drinking from these cups was believed to protect from poison.

In reality, the material of the cups was narwhal tusks. Viking traders sold narwhal tusks in medieval Europe. People believed they were unicorn horns.

The unicorn myth already existed in medieval Europe, so the origin of the unicorn myth is not in narwhals.

As long as the unicorn myth has existed, the unicorn has had a single horn. But it wasn't always the spiraled horn as we imagine the unicorn horn today. Narwhals inspired the spiral appearance of the unicorn horn.

If it wasn't for narwhals, the way we picture the unicorn today might look different. The narwhal truly is the "unicorn of the sea".

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MA in literature. A writer and unicorn lover. I write about unicorns, animals, home and living, and other intriguing topics.

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