Throughout history, the narwhal tooth has inspired legend and lore. So prized was the fabled tooth of the unicorn that Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century paid 10,000 pounds for one, equivalent to the cost of an entire castle. The tooth is revered by many cultures around the world. In Japan, two crossed narwhal teeth adorn the entrance to the Korninkaku Palace. In Denmark multiple teeth comprise the frame. The royal scepter in England is made from the rare tusk.
Narwhal Tusk Research, founded in the year 2000, is a multinational collaboration with an interdisciplinary approach that crosses the borders of biologic, chemical, physical and social science to discover the purpose and function of the erupted tusk of the narwhal. Thus far, 27 Institutions worldwide and over 48 scientists will combine their insights and backgrounds with 32 Inuit elders from the Eastern Canadian High Arctic and Western Greenland to assemble the pieces of this marine mammal puzzle that has eluded discovery for hundreds of years. Investigators with myriad backgrounds in cellular biology, histology, anatomy, marine mammal science, dental medicine, evolutionary genetics and mathematics are currently analyzing narwhal teeth and their associated structures. Inuit elders with extensive experience as hunters and guides are continuing to provide Traditional Knowledge that describes behavioral and social characteristics of the narwhal. Elders from four communities in Canada and Greenland are being interviewed in digital audio and video formats to record their insights, perceptions, and observations based on hundreds of years of collective experience. Each of these parallel perceptions has shared points that contribute to, guide, and challenge past studies and direct current findings about the tusk.