Yes, they’re real!
Although they’re referred to as unicorns of the sea, narwhals are very real.
You may have seen Buddy’s narwhal pal bidding him good luck in Elf. The mystical nickname comes from its prominent tusk, which looks a lot like a unicorn horn.
New Line Cinema
Their spiral tusks are actually teeth!
Narwhals have two teeth. For males, one takes the form of an ivory tusk that comes out of his upper lip. Ladies can also grow tusks, but they’re daintier in size.
Paul Nicklen / National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada
They can be as big as a school bus.
Their tusks can grow to be longer than you are tall, making them majestically massive, as this little graphic from National Geographic shows.
Paul Nicklen / National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada / Via animals.nationalgeographic.com
Each tooth can contain up to 10 million nerve endings.
After examining tusks they collected from hunters, a team of researchers found that narwhal teeth are filled with a pulpy nerve tissue that appears to be sensitive to its surroundings, much like your teeth hurting when you bite into ice cream, Wired‘s Nadia Drake surmises.
The study, published in the The Anatomical Record, also found that the whales’ heart rates rose and fell in response to high-salt and fresh water. While that can indicate the tusks are sensitive to a variety of stimuli, marine mammal biologist Kristin Laidre told National Geographic that the animals may have been stressed during the measurements.
naturepl.com / Eric Baccega / WWF-Canon