þriðjudagur, desember 13, 2005



Scientists have finally discovered what the narwhal uses that spiralling tusk for. As if this animal were not wondrous enough, livid in color (ná-hvalur, the corpse whale), threader of arctic seas, now it seems that the long jutting tooth is not a jousting lance but a delicate probe. The narwhal has turned what makes those of us with oversensitive teeth wince upon sipping ice water or hot soup into an adaptation. The great tooth affords more than that apparently, more that mere temperature readings:
10 million nerve endings tunnel from the tusk's core toward its outer surface, communicating with the outside world. The scientists say the nerves can detect subtle changes of temperature, pressure, particle gradients and probably much else, giving the animal unique insights.
The mind races with the possibilities. What do the náhvalir know about the northern seas that we do not? They must know plenty that we know already: that the Sellafield plant periodically leaks radioactive waste, that PCBs leach upward in the food chain, that a whole þula's worth of persistent organic pollutants (lindane, chlordane, toxaphene, hexachlorocyclohexane) threaten the great silver- and white-pelted creatures of the glittering kingdom.

In the middle ages and long afterwards, narwhal tusks were traded south as unicorn horns, priceless objects. They were built into the thrones of Danish kings, eager to show their dominion over the cold wealth of Greenland. They were made into drinking vessels for monarchs wary of poisoners, for a property of unicorn horn was to render all poisons harmless.

I find myself wishing that the tusks had this miraculous property after all, and that they had it in situ, still anchored in their sockets, slicing prowlike through the icy waters, trailing glassy bubbles and purity.

1 ummæli:

Sean sagði...

One could argue that the folklore regarding the narwhal's horn was only slightly off... An organ that sensitive could probably detect a poisoned draught, even if it fails to purify it through force of virtue.

The old Danish kings thus missed out on a splendid opportunity to show a more noble dominion over Greenlandic waters by employing narwhals at court as tasters. I imagine a great pool or moat lapping at the foot of the regal dais, inhabited by the royal husnarwhals. When an embassy arrives, they quizzically raise their heads above the water, tasting the air with their tusks, alert to the scent of treachery.

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