If you’re unfamiliar with the species, narwhals are medium-sized whales that dwell in the Arctic all year. Their distinctive sharp tusk distinguishes them. The huge solitary tusk is really a hollow canine tooth that protrudes through the upper left jaw.
It develops in a helix-like manner and may reach lengths of ten feet! Males always have these tusks, although only 15% of females do. Males will occasionally develop two. Most of us assume that this massive tooth is used as a weapon by males when they are measuring each other up and struggling for territory or a partner.
Some have even imagined it as an ice pick or a means of picking up noises in the water. However, it has been shown that the tusks are really innervated sensory organs that link impulses from the ocean to the brain. This indicates that narwhals may use their tusks to “taste” changes in water chemistry and temperature. Using such a system helps them to obtain food and learn when females are ready to ma.te.
When males are observed rubbing their tusks together, it is suggested that this is not only a jousting contest but a mechanism for them to communicate where they have traveled.
Of course, we’ll never know for sure, and it’s possible that females select males depending on tusk size, which might be one reason why they’ve survived evolution.