Some people believe that the bizarre appearance of the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) first gave rise to the legend of the unicorn. The function of the male's long tusk is not properly known, but it may function as a hunting implement, or as a tool to break up ice and allow access to the air, so that the animals can breathe. However, the most favoured explanation is that the males joust with each other, fighting over access to females during the breeding season.

The narwhal's swollen forehead is known as its melon, a feature shared with other toothed whales, such as dolphins. The melon serves to focus the ultrasonic clicks that narwhals use, like other small cetaceans, to navigate and find their food. As in a sophisticated sonar system, narwhals listen as the high-frequency sounds they make rebound off objects nearby. So sensitive is this method of orientation that narwhals are able not only to tell what is food and what is not, but also how big, how distant and how quickly a potential prey item is moving.

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