National Geographic : 1984 Apr
answered that breakup of the ice was al ready far advanced. I added that four nar whals already had been taken along the edge of the receding ice at Qaanaaq. Qajoranguaq continued to work steadily, adding only an occasional encouraging "lijai-You don't say so," "Takuuk-I see," or "Nauhinaju-Oh,really." It was a pleasure to watch this 25-year-old master at work, to see him adjust the long side planks, follow the lines of the ribs, and join the frame into one elastic whole that would later be covered with sealskin. A kay ak should be joined without nails. It has to work with the sea, not stubbornly try to fight the forces of nature. "Those narwhals," he asked, "the ones the hunters got out on the ice at Qaanaaq did they have tusks?" "Yes, all four of them," I answered, knowing the importance of my reply. The tusk of the narwhal, a feature of the male rarely found on the female, is a vital source of income to the Polar Eskimos. It has be come even more important since the price of sealskins plunged drastically several years ago-a result of the conservationist cam paign against large-scale commercial seal ing off Newfoundland. The hunt for narwhals has come to play a critical role in the ability to pay the install ments on village houses and boats, to pay for heating oil, gasoline, ammunition, radios, cloth for anoraks, and other items that sweeten existence in the icy polar wastes. Adult narwhals weigh as much as 1.6 tons, more than 3,000 pounds. On a full grown narwhal there are about 200 to 300 pounds of the tough, delicious muktuk, which is rich in vitamins. The concentration of vitamin C alone is sufficient to prevent scurvy despite a primary diet of meat. Both male and female narwhals are born with two teeth pointing forward in the upper jaw. The left tooth of the male, however, grows through the upper lip like a bow sprit. It spirals counterclockwise toward the tip and can reach a length of three meters and weigh as much as 20 pounds (pages 536 7). A large, perfectly pointed tusk is a covet ed trophy and sells for at least $800 on the world market. On rare occasions hunters find narwhals with twin tusks, a bonanza Qajoranguaq dreams of constantly. Northern Greenland has no wood except driftwood, seldom in generous supply, and until well into this century the Polar Eski mos used narwhal tusks as harpoon shafts and tent poles. But what does the narwhal itself use the tusk for? Qajoranguaq rules out the theory of a weapon. He believes the tusk is much too brittle for such purposes, even though some hunters claim to have seen panic stricken narwhals stab attacking killer whales with their tusks.