Narwhal Horns Laced with 10 Million Nerve Endings

A small pod of narwhals, Monodon Monoceros

For centuries, humans have speculated on narwhals’ bizarre horns, believing them to be everything from supernatural appendages to spear fishing weapons to tools for poking around on the ocean floor. In 2005 a team from Harvard and the National Institute of Standards and Technology put a horn under an electron microscope and discovered that it was actually covered in nerve endings, more than 10 million total, tunneling from the center of the horn to the outer surface. As it seems, the horn is a highly advanced, completely unique sense organ, probably used to detect subtle changes in the narwhals’ surroundings.

“This whale is intent on understanding its environment,” said Martin T. Nweeia, the team’s leader and a clinical instructor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, “…The tusk is not about guys duking it out with sticks and swords.”

In Inuktitut (Eskimo), narwhals are called Qilalugat tugaliit

Scientists have a new set of speculations about the horn: what exactly is it sensing? Salinity? Heat? Sound? Light? Or perhaps a mixture of them all!

In Finland, narwhals are more popular than Hello Kitty


By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]


Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading