The Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea


144 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55013-187-7
DDC 599.5'3





Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is associate director of programs at the Canadian Museum
of Nature in Ottawa.


The author of a number of books on the Arctic, Bruemmer focuses in this
one on the narwhal, which shares its cold ocean with the beluga and
bowhead, and is famous for its unique spiralled tusk on a linear axis.
The author’s commitment to the region and its fauna is obvious.

The book’s scope is much broader than zoology, and the subtitle,
“unicorn of the sea,” heralds much of the content: while there is
considerable attention to the natural history of narwhals, including the
personal experiences of the author in high Arctic areas, much of the
emphasis is on ethnological and artistic aspects, among them hunting by
Inuit and Europeans over the centuries; the narwhal in the folklore and
mythology of these peoples; and the various uses of the narwhal tusk.

There are plentiful historical anecdotes, accounts of early
explorations and trading, and associated social history. The amount of
material on the biology of the narwhal is not large, but there is some
discussion of such topics as confusion in historical accounts with the
now-extinct sea cow; mammalian predators, including rogue walruses with
carnivorous habits; unsuccessful attempts at maintenance in captivity;
and contemporary problems stemming from pollution.

The omission of relevant maps is surprising. Still the book’s large
format accommodates beautiful illustrative photographs and spacious
margins, which serve to enhance the effectiveness of this introduction
to one of the most distinctive members of the Canadian fauna.


Bruemmer, Fred., “The Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,