Tuesday, December 13, 2005

For centuries, scientists have wondered, "why does the narwhal, or "unicorn," whale have an 8-foot-long tooth emerging from its head, and what is its function?" Harvard School of Dental Medicine researcher Martin Nweeia has discovered the answer:

"Nweeia has discovered that the narwhal's tooth has hydrodynamic sensor capabilities. Ten million tiny nerve connections tunnel their way from the central nerve of the narwhal tusk to its outer surface. Though seemingly rigid and hard, the tusk is like a membrane with an extremely sensitive surface, capable of detecting changes in water temperature, pressure, and particle gradients. Because these whales can detect particle gradients in water, they are capable of discerning the salinity of the water, which could help them survive in their Arctic ice environment. It also allows the whales to detect water particles characteristic of the fish that constitute their diet. There is no comparison in nature and certainly none more unique in tooth form, expression, and functional adaptation."