It takes a team. Four expeditions collected anatomical specimens and Inuit and Inuguit traditional knowledge, and eight field research teams were involved with satellite tagging and the testing of sensory stimuli to the tusk. Though literally hundreds of people were involved in making the logistics of such work possible, a few stand out as critical to the execution and completion of the work.
Dr. Martin T. Nweeia is the principal investigator for Narwhal Discoveries, studying the purpose and function of the narwhal tusk. The 14-year study has taken him to unforbidding environments in the High Arctic regions of Baffin Island and Northwestern Greenland donning a dry suit in near-freezing waters, braving polar bears, an arctic hurricane and a near-fatal plane crash to study nature’s most extraordinary tooth.
At the center of the support team for the field collection work on the sensory hypothesis was Jack Orr, with the Arctic Research Division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. His exemplary leadership shows respect for the animals, and a well-balanced approach to the humans who have the privilege to handle them.
Eternally optimistic and always willing to help, Sandie Black was also at the core of our fieldwork. As Head Veterinarian at the Calgary Zoo, Sandie is well equipped to handle just about anything thrown in her path and walk away smiling, and more importantly leave those behind smiling as well.
For the scientific studies, Fred Eichmiller, former Director of the Paffernbarger Research Center at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology and currently Research Director for Delta Dental Service of Wisconsin, assisted this research at every phase, from collection of field data to analysis of the narwhal tusk hard tissue. His insights and experience combined with an easy-going, understated personality helped bring many of the findings from this work into the public eye. The curtain on the scientific stage certainly needs to be drawn back in recognition of his contributions.
Peter Hauschka, an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, provided many of the supporting findings to this work, as well as insights and direction for the study. The Hauschka Bone Laboratory at the Enders Research Center at Children’s Hospital in Boston generated much of the tissue analysis associated with the tusk, both the varying tooth expressions of the narwhal and the sensory components of the pulp.
For the collection of traditional knowledge, 56 hunters involved in this work were generous and open in sharing observations and insights necessary to more fully understand the narwhal. But two hunters stand out among them: Cornelius Nutarak and David Angnatsiak, who were gracious in helping “the scientists from the South,” who have a limited window approach to arctic fauna.
The Institutional Core of this work centered around the Marine Mammal Program at the Smithsonian Institution, with James Mead and Charley Potter; Bill Fitzhugh at the Arctic Research Center; the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and The National Science Foundation (with a particular note of thanks to Anna Kerttula, who saw my vision well before it came in to focus, and heard my call when a thousand other scientists were making much more noise).
Countless others gave time, energy, insights, support and well wishes to this work. Please know that no matter how much credit is given, it is clearly not enough. Anyone who has done research in the Arctic knows. My first time on a tenuous part of the ice floe edge, hunter David Angnatsiak came to my tent and said, “If I come and wake you up in the middle of the night and say ‘move’, that means we have exactly one minute to collect our things, and leave. What is left after that time is lost on the ice that breaks away or in the water. Have a nice nightmare.”