Personally, My Money's On the Narwhal

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

Fact: Unicorns and Narwhals are mortal enemies. Everybody knows this. But did you know how the conflict began?

How the Conflict Began
It was a simple case of mistaken identity, turned deadly. The Narwhals--basically mid-sized whales with a bad case of bucktooth--were just swimming around in the sea, minding their own business, when medieval Europeans began to cut a swath of destruction, killing Narwhals in order to sell the animals' unique tooth as a "unicorn horn".

Which is a shame, both because of the needless Narwhal deaths and because the Narwhal tooth is actually pretty zippy on its own, even without trying to pass it off as a piece of mythology. The tooth of the male Narwhal is the only known tooth in the world to grow in a spiral shape. It's also constructed very differently from other animals' teeth. Instead of having hard material on the outside, and soft stuff within, the Narwhal's tooth structure is completely reversed. Weirder still, each of these tooth-tusks, which can reach up to 8 ft. in length, has more than 10 million exposed nerve endings. Harvard University professor/dentist Martin Nweeia thinks the tooth might actually be a sensor, helping Narwhal navigate through Arctic waters by monitoring changes in pressure, temperature and water chemistry.

The Video Documentary of the War
In 2006, CalArts student Adrian Molina captured the glory and aftermath of an epic Unicorn vs. Narwhal battle as his junior year film project.

Take the Fight Home
Now you can act out your own Unicorn v. Narwhal battle scenes on your bedroom floor, using this action figure play set.

According to the packaging, which, I am certain, is every bit as reliable a source as Dr. Nweeia, Narwhal horns can "conjure sea demons, kill vampires and are self cleaning."

Unicorns, on the other hand, can merely "deflect lighting bolts" and "shoot rainbow beams" with their chocolate-filled horns. Plus, while biologists estimate there are about 50,000 living Narwhal, these same biologists do not even believe a single Unicorn exists.

I think I know whose side I'm on.

Oh yeah, and Unicorns also have the disadvantage of having made other animal enemies, for much the same reasons as their conflict with the Narwhal. You can read about the Elasmotherium, another beast that is surely gunning for Unicorn hide, in my book, Be Amazing.


  1. This is EPIC! And my kids adore Narwhhals, so I will have to buy the play set (one for me and one for them). I like the GLBT Power Unicorn theme.

    This thing about the teeth is intriguing. I wonder where we can see one to show to the wee ones?

  2. It’s the virgins that are the real danger for unicorns. Fortunately, there aren’t so many of them around these days.

  3. @ #1

    Oh, come on now, Narwhals are awesome creatures and Unicorns are a popular topic on this blog.

    It made me smile. Especially the video.

  4. My father once bought a unicorn horn from a dealer in London – at least the dealer claimed it was a unicorn horn. It turned out to be a narwhal tusk, but Dad decided to keep it. It’s very nice, though he broke it once, trying to get a model airplane out of a tree.

  5. Again this guest bloggers anti-hair ravings continue to get a platform here on Boing-Boing!

    Narwhales – no hair.

    Unicorns – covered in fluffy downy strands spun from the contended sighs of well fed babies.

    Strange how she “sides” with the Narwhale. Considering her past anti-hair ravings, this is hardly suprising.

    This, this, woman, and her anti-hairist propaganda, no matter how elaborately disguised as some informational anecdote about an age old rivalry must be addressed.

    We must stop this blatant hairist mentality!

  6. “Weirder still, each of these tooth-tusks, which can reach up to 8 ft. in length, has more than 10 million exposed nerve endings.”

    Sounds painful. I actually winced as I read this.

  7. #16

    Seriously. And they swim in freakin’ Arctic. It sounds like having a cavity and living in a pool of ice-cold soda. Christ. That researcher, though, is still trying to figure out whether this is actually painful for the Narwhal. If it is, I say we drive them to extinction as a mercy killing.


    You will be first against the wall when the naked revolution comes.

    No, not that way.

  8. #14 again…

    See people!! I tried to warn you, look at how quickly she jumps to her “final solution” for the hairless narwhales. Its for their own good. Doesn’t it always start like that? Have you know sense of history people and how the hair hating tyranny always begins?

    Don’t let her seemingly normal demeanor deceive you, oh no, her tenure here on Boing-Boing has displayed a well documented history of a deep seeded hatred of all things folicular. Clearly. Its there for all to see. Shocking in the nakedness of it, but then, that is her goal isn’t it. A perfect hairless society, where she is some kind of Queen of the Smooth.

  9. #14 once more…

    I bet she’s in cahoots with the international laser hair removal conspiracy! Pretty soon, laser hair removal will be required for all with more than a certain percentage of follicles per surface area of the body! We’re doomed! DOOMED!

  10. #14 brings you yet another thought…

    First they came and made us use razors.

    And I said nothing.

    Then they came and shaved us.

    And I said nothing…

    A warning from history, my fellow mammalians, we must speak truth to baldness.

    Our very future depends on it.

    We can’t let this dystopian hairless future happen unabated.

    We must burn all the razors!!

  11. …soooo THAT’S why that narwhal always used to come up to the side of tank and get me to rub its horn….

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