Arctic Unicorn Footage
BBC News has posted some really amazing (and rare) footage of the summer narwhal (monodon monoceros) migration, primarily filmed from a helicopter.
The footage we've had before was primarily filmed with surface-level or underwater cameras. Narwhals migrate every summer to new areas, for fairly mysterious reasons of their own—they do most of their feeding during the winter, before the seasonal migration to summer waters.
This is apparently the first time anyone has captured this kind of footage of these arctic mammals.
Narwhals are rarely seen, since they're exclusively arctic-dwelling animals. Their name means "corpse whale" from the Old Norse nár word for corpse, and there's some speculation that the moniker was given to them because of their dappled and splotchy blue-gray skin.
Narwhals are in the same porpoise/whale suborder as harbor porpoises, belugas, bottlenose dolphins, and orcas:
These shy and rare whales are traditionally hunted by the Inuit peoples, primarily for their skin—a rich source of vitamin C—and their long tusks. They're prey animals for orcas and polar bears, as well. Narwhals figure prominently in Inuit legends and stories. The tales often include a wicked woman, carried away into the water and transformed, her long hair twisting into the narwhal's spiral horn.
Perhaps because narwhals are so seldom seen—they stay pretty strictly in icy northern waters—they figure prominently in other folklore, as well—most often as the familiar figure of the unicorn. Their tusks, once upon a time, were harvested by enterprising adventurers and sold for handsome prices, at least sometimes marketed as Unicorn Horns.
From narwhal.org: "So prized was the fabled tooth of the unicorn that Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century paid 10,000 pounds for one, equivalent to the cost of an entire castle. The tooth is revered by many cultures around the world. In Japan, two crossed narwhal teeth adorn the entrance to the Korninkaku Palace. In Denmark multiple teeth comprise the frame of the Danish throne. The royal scepter in England is made from the rare tusk."
Currently, scientists judge narwhals to be at even greater risk than polar bears are, from climate change and the resulting melting polar ice and warming ocean waters. These whales feed on fish, in very deep, icy-cold water. As those fish populations are threatened and the polar bears and orcas that both prey on narwhals become more aggressive, the combined impact could well devastate the once-stable numbers of narwhals.