Friday, March 1, 2013

Bathing Beauties....

MSM Accession Number 1939.1301
This whimsical illustration of a couple narwhals basking on an Arctic beach appeared in the "Mammalia" volume of the 1837 series entitled The Naturalist's Library published in Edinburgh, Scotland. The title of the print is "The Narwhal or Sea Unicorn."  These marine mammals are related to the Beluga whale and, like them, have no dorsal fin. The tusk is actually a tooth that extends through the upper left lip of the male and is unusual in the fact that  it grows in a counterclockwise spiral from the left side of the face, although two-tusked animals have been reported and the occasional female exhibits a tusk as well. Scientists apparently are still unsure of all the uses of the tusk, though there are many unusual theories, the most likely being that it signals dominance among males. While the mythical unicorn was a solitary animal, the swimming variety is very social and can be occasionally seen in large groups in its Arctic habitat, especially in the Atlantic arctic region. Mystic Seaport has a large collection of Narwhal tusks brought back by whalemen from the Eastern Arctic. One unusual object in the collection is a coat rack constructed from wood, narwhal tusks and whale ivory. Now, get off the beach, beauties, and back into the brine.

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