Narwhal Tusk Research, founded in the year 2000, is an international 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, 34 institutions worldwide and more than 68 scientists have combined their insights and backgrounds with 53 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 over 500 years.
Investigators with myriad backgrounds in cellular biology, histology, anatomy, marine mammal science, dental medicine, evolutionary genetics and mathematics have studied and continue to analyze narwhal teeth and their associated structures. Primary research laboratories involved in the work are centered at Harvard University, and the Paffenbarger Research Center at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. Field research is led under the Arctic Research Division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Museums involved in the anatomical portion of this study include the Smithsonian Institution, the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and the American Museum of Natural History.
Research undertaken has been supported by the National Science Foundation offices of Polar Research and the Neural Systems Cluster of Integrative and Organismal Biology, The National Geographic Society, The Explorers Club World Center for Exploration, The Smithsonian Institution and Harvard Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine.
Inuit elders with extensive experience as hunters and guides have provided and continue to give Traditional Knowledge that describes anatomical, behavioral and social characteristics of the narwhal. Elders from the communities of Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, Repulse Bay, Broughton Island, Pangnurtung and Clyde River in Canada and Saaqaak, Uummannaq, Qaanaaq, Hunde Ejland and Disko Island in Greenland have been interviewed and recorded in digital audio wave files and 3CCD video formats to record insights, perceptions and observations based on hundreds of years of collective experience. The traditional collection in Nunavut was coordinated through the Nunavut Research Institute; this collection of observations served to balance and add to the scientific findings.
Each of these parallel perceptions has shared knowledge that contributes to, guides, and challenges past studies, and directs current findings about the tusk. By integrating their observations at every step of this investigation, a more complete understanding of the functional significance of the tusk was revealed.
The Explorers Club, World Center for Exploration awarded the prestigious "Flag" to expeditions in 2002 through 2012.
Photography by Joseph Meehan, Gretchen Freund, Clint Wright, Glenn Williams and Cortney Watt.