Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Thursday, 22 January 2009

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE: DOUBLE-TUSKED NARWHALS

The narwhal or unicorn whale Monodon monoceros is certainly one of the world's strangest whales - a veritable sea monster. It earns its alternative name from its single extremely long, spiralled, ivory tusk (in reality a greatly enlarged left upper incisor tooth), which was once believed to be the horn of the unicorn, and was known as an alicorn. Usually, only the male produces a tusk, but occasionally a female will also do so. Moreover, as I mentioned in the unicorn chapter of Dr Shuker's Casebook: In Pursuit of Marvels and Mysteries (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008), even more rarely a narwhal will develop a pair of these tusks. Such individuals are variously termed double-tusked, bidental, or bidentate, and although they are extremely rare, I have details of several examples on file.

For example: in a Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London paper from 1871, J.W. Clark lists no fewer than eleven double-tusked skulls from exceptionally-endowed narwhals. These comprise four specimens in Copenhagen, and one each at the Museums of Hamburg (a female, apparently from Greenland), Christiania (now Oslo), Amsterdam, Weimar, Hull (specifically, the Museum of Fisheries and Shipping), Paris, and Cambridge. Others on record include a second Hull specimen (reported in 1937), a specimen at the U.S. National Museum, one at the Dundee Museum, and at least three at London's Natural History Museum (one of which is currently on public display there).

The first of the London three was purchased by the museum in 1885 (and revealed that the spiral in both tusks twisted in the same direction, in contrast to the paired horns of spiralled-horned antelopes such as the kudu in which the horns' spirals twist in opposite directions); the second was purchased in 1917 for 10 guineas; and the third was presented to the museum in 1934 by a nephew of naturalist Frank Buckland, who in turn had received it from a Captain Gray of Peterhead.


6 comments:

  1. First I want to be the first to congratulate you Karl on this wonderful Blog! Thank you for bringing it to us ever-ravenous crypto readers and seekers! Now about the Narwhal, A fascinating mammal made doubly fascinating by an occasional blip in nature. Also interesting to me that the spiraling was the same direction in both tusks, I ponder if it was a genetic trait/ throwback to past family members. Thank you so much for sharing these incredible information rich topics! always an avid reader and crypto - guy and fan, Bob Hipp

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  2. Hi Bob, Thank you so much for your kind words. After much procrastination, I finally decided to dip my toes into the vast ocean of bloggery out there. So I'm am delighted that my first attempt is of such interest to you, and hope that you'll continue to follow my future bloggings! All the best, Karl

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  3. Actually, if memory serves - there is five doubletusked narwhales in Copenhagen - one of them supposedly a female. I can check the next time I get around to the museum.

    Lars Thomas

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  4. Hi Lars, That would be great! As the PZSL paper cited by me was published over a century ago, there may well be a few more double-tusks in museums by now, although they remain exceedingly rare, and it would be good to obtain a fully-updated checklist of them if possible. Thanks, Karl

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  5. Hi Karl! I just discovered that you have now your own blog, congratulations!
    The narwhale is surely a very fascinating animal, and I already thought about the possible evolution of this species. Sadly there is zero fossil record for Monodon, so we can only speculate how this early forms looked like. The beluga is the closest living relative of the narwhale, and there is even a small number of supposed hybrids based on some anomalous skulls from Greenland. The beluga has a very weird dentition, but it has also still a lot of teeth, so we can surely assume, that this was also the case for the beluga-like ancestors. The evolution of modern narwhales was surely also not very "straight", because there were surely some major stages which lead to a lot of difference. For example the time when the teeth were still visible when the mouth was closed, or when the teeth broke out of the skin instead of the mouth´s gingiva, and the tendency to a single tusk. In the first narwhales there was surely not only one tusk, but I suppose this was a comparably late trait, after the tusks reached a distinct size. I could also imagine that the tusks were at first perhaps no sign of sexual dimorphism, given the high procentage of female narwhales which grows tusks too. I once wrote an article on my blog about the supposed evolution of the narwhale on my blog (it was later publicated in issue Nr. 5 of "Der Kryptozoologie-Report"), and I even sculpted a model of such a hypothetic protonarwhale which had still two short tusks with even surface, which grew still out of the mouth and not out of the epidermis.
    I have also seen a doubletusk-narwhale in the zoological museum at Hamburg last year, sadly I still found no time to blog about it. It was one of the small handfull of exponats which survived WW II when Hamburg was bombed. It is already several centuries old, and very special because it has not only two fully developed tusks, but comes also from a female.

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  6. I completely forgot to write the link to the model of the protonarwhale:
    http://bestiarium.kryptozoologie.net/artikel/die-evolution-des-narwals/

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