Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Brokeback Arctic

For centuries, the tusk of the narwhal has fascinated and baffled.
But a team of scientists from Harvard and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has now made a startling discovery: the tusk, it turns out, forms a sensory organ of exceptional size and sensitivity, making the living appendage one of the planet's most remarkable, and one that in some ways outdoes its own mythology.

The find came when the team turned an electron microscope on the tusk's material and found new subtleties of dental anatomy. The close-ups showed that 10 million nerve endings tunnel from the tusk's core toward its outer surface, communicating with the outside world. The scientists say the nerves can detect subtle changes of temperature, pressure, particle gradients and probably much else, giving the animal unique insights.
Increasingly, the investigation centers on how the whales use their newly observed powers. One central unanswered question is how sensory abilities in males might relate to herd behavior and survival.
He added that the nerve endings, in addition to other readings, undoubtedly produce tactile sensations when the tusk is rubbed or touched, and that these might be interpreted as pleasurable.

This tactile sense might explain why narwhals engage in what is known as "tusking," where two males gently rub tusks together, Dr. Nweeia said. He added that the Inuit seldom report aggressive contact, undermining ideas of ritualized battle. Link

No organ this complicated would have evolved purely for pleasure, of course. But since they've got it, these guys are obviously using it.

(Here's what they really look like:)

Sadly, the image is from a National Geographic story about how this beautiful, horny animal's population is declining, probably in part due to global warming. Thanks a lot, assholes.

Oh, and global warming is also drowning polar bears.

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