Of Narwhals and Blobfish

Nature — What in the name of HUH???? can you do with it?

The title alone leaves you skeptical, right? Maybe you don’t even want to look. But how can you not?

And hey, I’m all about the info share.

The narwhal is a medium-ish … fish…? Well no, it’s a whale. Not a big whale, which kind makes the name “whale” not quite fit, and in truth it actually doesn’t much look like a whale at all … but they call it one. Following along in the huh? category, it claims a giant protrusion where its smiling face should be, and lives year-round in the very cold places. Very. Cold.

Considered a “toothed whale”, it manages to stand out from all the other toothed whales because, um, it doesn’t have any teeth.

Well that’s not entirely true — the males do have one (you heard that right). One tooth. What do you do with one tooth? And this one tooth grows straight out of his upper left jaw for a whopping 10 feet. Do they really get to call it a tooth? Try hauling that to the dentist for a check-up.

And it’s no baby tooth, either. Babies, by order, have to be cute. This one has a counterclockwise spiralized sword sticking lopsidedly out of the narwhal’s jaw.

Not sexy enough for you? How about this? The old Norse prefix “Nar” means “corpse” and “hval” means “whale”, so basically we’re talking about a “corpse whale.” If that’s not off-putting enough for you, apparently the “corpse whale” refers to the skin color of a drowned sailor. Sigh.

On the flip side, these babes are among the deepest diving marine mammals, able to dive 5,905 feet or just hang out at around 2,600 feet. Now that’s some pressure! They also swim while sleeping, play with their offspring, and communicate long distance by producing ghostly squealing, whistling, and high-pitched clicks.

So yeah, I’m pretty cool with the Narwhal. Very cool twisty fencing foil, otherwise known as a tooth. Props, and lots of them.

The Blobfish, on the other hand, is a very nuanced type of cool — in other words, you have to really, really, really open up to ugly in order to hug one.

Firstly, he’s under 12 inches long. Basically, he’s prey.

Secondly, he’s already known as “The World’s Ugliest Animal”, so it’s no real surprise that he lives 2,000 – 4,000 feet below the surface. With no skeleton. And no muscle. Um, hello? Did everyone forget me down here?

This babe lives off the coast of Australia, and the pressure at his home depth is up to 120 times higher than it is at the surface. Submarine territory. “Do Not Try This at Home.”

But there’s a reason for his blobbiness. Says Henry Reich of Minute Physics: “Unlike most other fish, the ones that live in these depths don’t have gas-filled cavities like swim bladders that would collapse under the extreme pressure. In fact, super-deepwater fish often have minimal skeletons and jelly-like flesh, because the only way to combat the extreme pressure of deep water is to have water as your structural support.” Now I’m beginning to like him.

So why is the world so hard on the blobfish? Because if you thrust me 4,000 feet below the water my organs would be crushed into oblivion and I’d turn into some sort of paste. Meanwhile the blobfish would just look like …. well … a blob.

So cheers to all those beings out there who stick out in a crowd, go their own way, and still manage to feed and fuel the earth.

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