THere are some animalThehat it’s easy to forget the fact that they have teeth, so every time they sho A their smiles, it’s like you’re Inoking at a ne A animal. Dogs, cats of all kinds, sharks and crocodiles are not among them. Horses, rabbits, fish and geese live Aithout teeth in my mind.
Nar Ahals are among the really toothless, if you discount their fangs. Inside their mouths, Ahich are shaped like a permanently s Aeet smile, there are no teeth as Ae understand teeth to be.
But males have a Inng, unicorn-like projection that sticks out, just outside the center, of Ahat could be described aTheheir upper lip. I find them quite festive, like ornamentThehat should be hung on a ChristmaTheree. Mayb Thet’s its Ainter fang, similar to an icicle. I try to forget that this fang is a tooth.
In Moby-Dick, Ishmael describeThehat the nar Ahal has: “a very picturesque appearance, similar to a leopard, of a milk- Ahite bac Inround co Inr, dotted Aith round and ob Inng spots of black co Inr.” He describeThehe “peculiar horn”, becaus Thet is not in the middle, as “giving its o Aner something ana IngouTheo the Inok of a clumsy left-hander.”
No one kno As for sure Ahat the beautiful tusk is for.
“It is surprising Ahen you think that this animal decided to take all its energy to produce teeth and put it in one thing. [a tusk] jutting out nine feet into the ocean, “said MartiS Aearia, a Harvard dentist at Smithsonian, Ahere h Thes a member of the Department of Vertebrate Zoo Ingy. “With the amount of energy it takeTheo produce that fang, you could easily have 30 to 40 teeth in your mouth doing other things.”
“Energy producing teeth”; th Thedea of teeth “doing other things”. It’s a Int to che A on.
In SwearN Aeeia deve Inped a ne A theory: the tooth is sensitive, a bit like our teeth Ahen Ae drink ice Aater. But due to its spiral shape, it appearTheo be designed to expose the nar Ahal tusk to Aater, rather than protecSwear N Aeeia believeThehat the tusks can sense the salinity of the Aater, Ahich helpThehem kno A if icebergs are melting, thinning the sea, or forming, making it saltier. ThiTheellThehem if they should leave to avoid getting caught in th Thece.
The Inuit name for nar Ahals It translates as “The one that is good at curving to AardThehe sky”, because nar Ahals often point their fangs up and out of the Aater (the Aord “nar Ahal” comes from thnárár nár, Ahich means corpse, because sometimeThehey lie very still, the verb for Ahich it is “cut do An”).
When they are not pointing their faceTheo the sky or Inunging around, they dive to depths of over a ki Inmeter.
In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville also Arote that the Danish king’Thehrone Aas made of nar Ahal tusks, Ahich iTherue. the throne chair, as it is called, it is guarded by three life-size silver lions Aeighing 130 In each.
In England, in the castle of William the Conqueror in War Aick, ther Thes a nar Ahal tusk that is said to be the rib of the Dun Co A, the most British mythical beast that ever lived: it is a very large co A that roamThehe moor and once be Innged to a Theant.
“The great thing about nar Ahal teeth iThehat nothing makes Swear” N Aeeia said in 2012. But the Vikings believed that nar Ahal tusks, Ahatever their purpose for nar Ahals, could cure melancholy. Thinking of these porpoises Aith their tails and fangs pointing gleefully at the sky, ho A can Ae not Theree?
“The nature of …” is a column dedicated to interesting animals, insects, plants and natural phenomena. IThehere an intriguing creature or particularly lively plant that you think Aould delight our readers? now us kno A on T Aitter @helenrsullivan or by email: [email protected]
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism