We individually inspect and select all the tusks we offer for sale in the gallery above. Here is our selection process for a shipment of 56 narwhal tusks that came down from the Arctic sea lift to Toronto in November 2010.
We opened the crate for the first time and got first pick of the entire shipment.
We took out all the tusks, lined them up, and arranged them by size.
We inspected the tusks from tip to base to ensure quality selection.
This is the largest tusk of the entire shipment. See 156-G6293.
The tusks in our gallery above are stored
at our office in Toronto. You are welcome to come and inspect individual tusks if
desired. Please make an appointment ahead of time so you are not
disappointed. For customers residing outside of Ontario, we cannot
release the tusks until we have proper paperwork in place. All
offers of sale are make with the condition that proper permits are in
place prior to the final sale.
Care of the Tusks
Apply a light coat of VaselineTM or mineral oil once a year in a moist environment and once every six months in a dry environment to
prevent it from drying out. The tusks will crack if they are
allowed to dry out. Most tusks have small hairline cracks
where the tusks twist naturally.
When the tusks first come out of the water,
they are covered in algae and other dark slime as shown on the left in the
picture above. One way to clean the
tusks is to use a piece of eaves trough, close up the sides, and fill it with water and
detergent (Sunlight will work) or bleach and water. You can let the tusk soak overnight and then
use a bristle brush to clean the scum off. The tusk will be a bit
yellowed. You can use regular hydrogen peroxide to brighten it.
The tusks will come out like the ones on the right depending upon how well
you clean them.
We only sell cleaned tusks for export. The tusks are cleaned and are free of blood and meat. They are scrubbed to remove algae and grime. They are often treated in a long tub with hydrogen peroxide or bleach to disinfect and whiten.
What are Narwhal Tusks used for?
Narwhal tusks are used primarily for decoration. Over the years, we have encountered some other uses around the world.
Here’s a quick summary by country or region:
Canada – The tusks are primary used for decoration. We have seen some people use tusks for jewelry, knife handles, and walking sticks.
Europe – Most tusks are used for decoration. Tusks can only be sold in the European Union now for personal or scientific use.
Turkey – We have had customers use tusks to make prayer beads.
Japan – We have had customers use these for sushi knives and for decoration. In the past someone was making a powder for medicinal purposes.
China – Tusks are used for decoration and making jewelry. Some are used for carving.
New Zealand – The tusks we have sold have been used for decoration.
Below are some pictures of mounted tusks for display:
Using Tusks for
Arts and Crafts and Other Legal Questions
There is some question as to the laws
regarding use of tusks for making arts and crafts. The law states
that each tusk must have a harvest tag attached at all times. During
a meeting with officials at Fisheries & Oceans in Burlington, Ontario
on March 9, 2010, we were informed that policy guidelines are being
developed to assist the arts and crafts community in complying with the
law. If a tusk purchased from us or others is going to be cut into
multiple pieces for use in making earrings, pendants, knife handles,
carvings, etc., the new owner of the tusk should contact Fisheries &
Oceans to obtain additional harvest tags before cutting the tusk.
These tags can then be assigned to each article being made.
Technically, the law states that the tag must be attached to the tusk at
all times. For jewelry, knife handles, cut pieces, and carvings, our
understanding is that as long as the owner can produce the tag for the
article promptly, this will suffice as proof of a product made from a
legally acquired tusk. In other words, you can wear a pair of
narwhal earrings to dinner, but had better be able to prove that they were
made from legally acquired material if ask by an officer from Fisheries
& Oceans. Always keep the harvest tag.
Please note that all narwhal products
leaving the Province of Ontario must have marine mammal transportation
permits--this is true for jewelry, carvings, knife handles, cut pieces,
etc., as well as for full tusks. All products being shipped out of
Canada must have a CITES permit--regardless of how much or how little you
paid for the item.
Once the tusk is exported outside of Canada we are not aware of any requirement that the tag must remain attached to the tusk. We do advise that you keep the tag for your files.
We recommend that
customers maintain adequate paperwork (copies of tags, pictures of tusks,
etc.) to prove where pieces came from and went.
Please note that we accept no
responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy of this section and are simply
trying to relay information as we learn more as a service to both our
customers and to the Ministry of Fisheries & Oceans.
We are not the final authorities on this matter and are awaiting formal,
written guidance from Fisheries & Oceans that we can pass on to our
customers. Each customer or
artist is responsible for researching the laws on his or her own to ensure
a thorough understanding of how the laws affect his or her situation.
Genus and species: Monodon
monoceros. Wild. CITES Appendix II.
Narwhal are protected along with all
other marine mammals. They live in the cold arctic waters and
are not exposed to significant hunting. Estimates of the
number of narwhal in polar waters range from a low of 20,000 to a
high of 35,000 or more. Nearly all of the
narwhal tusks come from animals that were killed by local hunters
for food, not for the tusk alone. The government of Canada
restricts the number of narwhal that may be taken each year to
ensure that narwhal do not become threatened. As of January
2010, we believe the annual harvest is only 200 to 300 narwhal across the
Canadian arctic. This is about 1% of the estimated population and is
believed to be sustainable.
There are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 tusks that have accumulated on the ocean floor over the years near communities where the narwhal hunt takes place.
Due to recent problems with poaching and
overhunting in eastern Greenland (where there is a very small population
of narwhals), we do not offer narwhal tusks from Greenland.
FAQ and Notes on Tusks
Q: Are the tusks hollow?
A: The tusks are hollow nearly all the way to
the tip. Only the last inch or two is solid. The hole in the
middle of the tusk is about 1/2" in diameter on 5' tusks. The
width of the hole expands nearer the base. The longer tusks from
older animals have a much thicker base than the younger ones.
Q: What percentage of female narwhal have tusks?
A: Most tusks come from male narwhal. Studies by the Ministry of Fisheries & Oceans, however, shows that approximately 6% of narwhal with tusks were female.
Q: Why are the tips sometimes whiter than the rest of the tusk?
A: When the tusks first come out of the
water, often the tips are clean from use and the rest of the tip is nearly
black from algae and gunk. Many tusks are broken on the tips simply
as a result of use--not breakage in shipping. These are ideal for
craft purposes or for individuals who do not mind specimens like this.
Q: How can you tell whether a tip has been worked?
A: To see whether a tip has been worked (sanded by the Inuit or others), you can use a magnifying glass to look for marks and/or swirls from sandpaper.
Q: When do the Inuit hunt the narwhal?
A: The most active hunting takes place in August and September when the ice opens up. The Inuit avoid hunting pregnant females.
Q: Why do narwhal have tusks?
A: The tusks appear to be for display to attract female narwhal--similar to antlers or deer or elk and tail feathers on peacocks. It was believed their primary use is not for gathering food or combat. If the main use was scraping molluscs off the ocean floor or gathering other food, female narwhal would tend to have tusks as well. All narwhal have two teeth. In males, one extends beyond the skin and becomes the long tusk narwhal are famous for. The other tusk rarely penetrates the skin and grows. When it does, this becomes a rare double-tusk narwhal. The teeth that do not penetrate the skin are considered teeth and not tusks. Harvest tags are genearlly not issued for teeth. A Marine Mammal Transportation License is required to export the teeth from Nunavut or out of a province.
In August 2016, narwhal in Tremblay Sound, a narrow fjord on the north coat of Baffin Island, were filmed for the first time using their tusks to hit and stun fish before eating them. Which goes to show there is still a lot we do not know about these enigmatic animals. See the videos in this links below.
Q: How big are narwhal tusks?
A: Most adult male narwhal have tusks that average 6 to 8 feet. It is rare to get tusks that are 9 feet or longer. The longest tusks every seen are about 13' if my memory serves me well.
When tusks are bleached using a 2% solution of Chlorox(TM) and water (2 parts water, 1 part 6% Chlorox household bleach) the tusk becomes a bright white (see a picture of a bleached tusk compared to a cleaned tusk). The color softens when mineral oil is applied.
Non-Natives are not prohibited from selling any edible parts of the narwhal.
The Illegal Trade in Narwhal Tusks
Why do people smuggle tusks into the United States or Europe?
For the same reason they smuggle other contraband, such as cocaine, heroin, counterfiet products, and cigarettes: these products are illegal and profitable.
How big is the illegal trade in narwhal tusks?
Given that the legal trade is limited (141 tusks were legally exported from Canada from January 1, 2012 until October 29, 2012, according to CITES Canada) the illegal trade is probably quite small. When someone is caught smuggling tusks it becomes instant news--in part because it is rare.
What are the penalties for smuggling narwhal tusks into the United States?
Two Americans caught smuggling tusks from Canada into Maine face up to 20 years in prison and potential fines of US$250,000 or more.
Why do we Sell Narwhal
Ever since I was a kid reading about polar
explorers and Eskimos (Inuit) I have been fascinated by the polar
regions. Narwhal play an important role in the north for both food and art. I
find dealing with northern products very interesting and simply enjoy
having Inuit art and products around. I do not believe that the
limited hunting of narwhal by the Inuit is having a deleterious effect on
the population of these animals and the sale of the tusks promotes the
north and the lives of Inuit. If it became clear that the harvest of
limited quantities of narwhal for food by the Inuit threatened the
survival of the narwhal, we would stop selling the tusks.
Jochen from Germany writes:
Today the tusk arrived well and in good shape. I am very impressed and totally happy with it! Thanks for making this possible and thanks for the quick and professional transaction!
I also have to say that the shipping company in Germany was very helpful and professional. The communication with email and phone was very good and they did the customs and tax declaration very quickly. I did expect much more troubles like going personally to the customs office and so on, but it was really a pleasure. Finally shipping, customs, taxes and fees were another $500, but it was worth it!
The document here one does need to get the import permission in Germany: http://www.bfn.de/fileadmin/MDB/documents/themen/cites/formular-221.pdf
The filled document has to be sent to Mr. Mario Sterz: Mario.Sterz@bfn.de
Probably this information is also helpful for your German clients, I had to do several phonecalls to get through :-)