I was surprised by how many cetaceans made it into my longlist. Part of it, perhaps, is that the difficulty of seeing marine animals adds to their desirability. And of course a lot of whales are *big*. Anyway, I considered Blue Whale, Killer Whale, Beluga, and Sperm Whale, and though Sperm Whale came closest (Moby Dick!) in the end, I went for the Narwhal, Monodon monoceros.
By whale standards, it’s not that big – the body’s only 4-5m [only!] – although the male’s tusk can add another 3m. What an extraordinary thing, though, that long, spiralling tooth. We tend to imagine that narwhal tusks were taken as unicorn horns because of a coincidental similarity; that one long spiralling ‘horn’ was assumed to be another. But actually, that form, the long helical tooth, is pretty much unique to narwhals. All those medieval images of unicorns were derived from the narwhal horns.
These are really special animals.