Saturday, May 9, 2009

With prefix nar and no ending in e: narwhal

The prefix nar in the name narwhal has its origin in the Old Norse word nár, which means corpse. The plural form is narwhals [1]. When together, they build a narwhal pod, which can range in size from a few to 100 narwhals. Narwhals differ from other whales not just in terms of spelling [2]:
The alabaster belugas's dark cousin, the narwhal is not a conventionally beautiful animal. Its unlovely name means “corpse whale,” because its splotchy flesh reminded Norse sailors of a drowned body. This speckled complexion is “weird,” says James Mead, curator of marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural Histrory (NMNH); usually, he says, whales are a more uniform color. And unlike other whales, narwhals—which can live more than 100 years—die shortly in captivity, greatly reducing the opportunity to study them.
The scientific name is derived from Greek, although their are no narwhals in the Aegean Sea: Monodon monoceros, meaning one tooth, one horn. An occasional male has two tusks (most females have none) and the NMNH has two rare double-tusk specimens [2]. The function of this characteristic helical tusk is still vividly debated. Unfortunately, it also is the reason why the narwhal's fate resembles the fate of elephants. However, recent research and protection gives some hope.

Note and reference
[1] The spellings narwhale and narwhales can be found occasionally.
[2] Abigail Tucker: In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal. Smithsonian, May 2009, Vol. 40, No. 2, p. 34.

Greenlandic narwhal vocabulary
angisoq tuugaaq large tusked narwhal
quernertaq tuugaalik tusked narwhal
quernertaq narwhal

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