Rewind 30-40 years and we hardly recognized that a narwhal was a real animal. Sure, it may have surfaced in a random kids book about whales, but it was hardly dinner table conversation. My how things have changed…in that short amount of time, the narwhal has emerged as a pop-culture icon, and the species owes a great many thanks to our good friend, Buddy the Elf. Narwhals live in the arctic, largely out of site from the masses, but maintain a threatened status primarily due to human activity. In 2003, the narwhal’s fate changed entirely given its newly emerged significance with Mr. Narwhal’s appearance in the movie ‘Elf’. This goofy randomness, in true Will Ferrell form, put a spotlight on the narwhal which is now unquestionably among the most well-recognized arctic species, and particularly now during the holiday season – a critter right up there in daily discussions with unicorns, butterflies, cats, and dogs.
As we continue to lose arctic ice and consequently shipping traffic expands across the arctic circle, narwhals and their neighbors will feel increasing human pressures and the resulting outcomes, while unknown for certain, are likely to lead to dire consequences for the species. It would be a sad, sad day if 50 years from now Buddy’s interaction with Mr. Narwhal was viewed as a purely fictitious eulogy to this beautiful animal.
Then of course, logic guides us to watching the movie every year and remembering Mr. Narwhal. If you have kids, the narwhal stuff out there today is incredible…clothes, stuffed animals, coffee mugs, halloween costumes, and it goes on… all of this awareness is absolutely critical, and a great model for environmental awareness through pop-culture.
Awareness is one thing, but closing the loop on meaningful action is another, ane that is where civilization needs some help. We’ve managed to exploit Mr. Narwhal and someone out there is capitalizing substantially – this needs to benefit the narwhals out there. Unfortunately, not only can they not speak, but they don’t have much of a voice in the conservation realm, and certainly do not have their own intellectual property legal team.
These are the types of very real issues that need to be sorted out to better balance the planet for all of our benefit, people, elves, and narwhals alike.
As you do your plastic ridden holiday shopping, just remember that “Narwhals are AWESOME”, but if we keep doing what we’re doing, they might not be here forever, and poor Buddy might never get the needed encouragement to find his Dad…such a sad day.