Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unicorns Are Still Out There

Narwhals are pretty darn cool. But we don't know a whole lot about them. They're the mysterious unicorn-whales of the sea. Scientist Kristin Laidre is trying to find out more. Not exactly an easy task:

"Narwhals live in the cracks of dense pack ice for much of the year. They flee from motorboats and helicopters. They can't be herded toward shore like belugas, and because they're small (for whales) and maddeningly fast, it's little use trying to tag them with transmitters shot from air rifles. They must be netted and manhandled, although Laidre is trying a variation on an aboriginal method, attaching transmitters to modified harpoons that hunters toss from stealthy Greenlandic kayaks."

Her drive? Finding out basic facts, like 'how many narwhals are there?' and 'where do they travel?' and 'what are their eating patterns?' No one even really knows what the deal is with their 'horn' (actually a tooth)--why do they have it? What do they use it for? Is it to move ice? Attack things? Studying narwhals requires a lot of effort to discover really basic information. Narwhals can't even be captured and studied, because they tend to die quickly in captivity.

The article itself is really interesting, discussing narwhals and the locations in which they live. It's a travel/science/adventure essay.

Of course, the essay leaves out the Avenging Narwhal, which might hold the key to all the narwhal questions. ("How many narwhals are there? Enough to kill a koala!") But you can't expect National Geographic to be doing that kind of research, can you?


renee said...