Unicorns do exist, maybe not?


How many of you believe in unicorns? My impression of Unicorns is that they are flying horses with a horn in front of their head. I always thought unicorns are creepy looking but still fascinating because they can be both fictional and non-fictional, depending on what your belief is, but definitely not a freak if it’s not a unicorn (see comic).

And today, I share my interest in the non-fiction kind: ‘Arctic Unicorn’, commonly known as Narwhal. I first came to know of the Monodon monoceros through the BBC Documentary: Nature’s Great Events. In the episode on “The Great Melt”, the Narwhal is introduced as one of the adaptive animals with a distinct ‘horn’ feature (click link for video: Arctic Unicorns – BBC “The Great Melt”)

Narwhal swimming underwater

Though preferring non-ice habitats, the Narwhal can withstand dense ice-cover during winter, by staying under water and exercising “Benthic Feeding” on marine animals (Laidre et al, 2008). In summer, they would spend time swimming in shallow waters in order to attain fresh air through their breathing holes (Silverman and Dunbar, 1980). Interesting also, is that Narwhals, being migratory animals, have distinct hunting habitats (benthic grounds during summer and shallow waters during spring). This adaptive and almost dual lifestyle of Narwhal also makes it a mysterious animal.

During seasonal migration across the Arctic Ocean, the unicorn (horn) feature comes in handy when Narwhals break melting ice-sheets for air above the water surface. In actual fact, these ‘horns’ are actually tusks (teeth) that the Narwhals use to pierce their prey (National Geographic Society, 2013). Their tusks is also employed to transmit a trumpeting sound for communication within the pod during migration. Apart from using their tusks to hunt, Narwhals also display aggression by crossing their tusks and strike them against each other above the water surface (Silverman and Dunbar, 1980) during fights.

Nonetheless, they are worthy of being called Arctic Unicorns because of their strong adaptive ability. If there is one thing I learn from Narwhals, it’s how you can get the best of both worlds if you are able to adapt, but of course that adaptation must be effective through evolution and refinement!


Laidre, K.L et al. (2008) Quantifying the Sensitivity of Arctic Marine Mammals to Climite-Induced Habitat Change. Ecological Applications , 18(2), pp. S97-S125.

National Geographic Society (1996-2013) [Online]
Available at: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/narwhal/
[Accessed: 25 March 2013]

Silverman, H. B. & Dunbar M. J. (1980) Aggressive Tusk Use by Narwhal (Monodon monoceros L.) Nature, 284 (5751), pp. 57-58)
Video and Image:
“HD: Arctic ‘Unicorns’ – Nature’s Great Events: The Great Melt – BBC One” by BBC YouTube Channel, 11 March 2009.
URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44sjE_x1X4k
[Accessed: 25 March 2013]
“The Narwhal – Unicorn of the Sea” by David Wilborn, 13 August 2012.
URL: http://evilrobotgenius.com/comics/2012-08-13-The-Narwal%2C-Unicorn-Of-The-Sea.png
[Accessed: 25 March 2013]
“Narwhal” byDAZ3D Studio, 2011
URL: http://www.daz3d.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/n/a/narwhal-2.jpg
[Accessed: 5 April 2013]