‘Unicorn of the Sea’ – the Narwhal – Explored in Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition at The Schiele

The mysterious narwhal with its unique, spiraling tusk was revealed at The Schiele Museum in Gastonia when the newest exhibit opened at the museum May 15. This legendary animal and its changing ecosystem are explored in the Smithsonian traveling exhibition “Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend.” The exhibition will be on view at The Schiele Museum through August 8, 2021.

Developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and its Arctic Studies Center and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the exhibition explores interdisciplinary research conducted about the narwhal by Smithsonian scientists in collaboration with Arctic researchers and members of Inuit communities about the narwhal in the rapidly changing Arctic environment. The exhibition uses firsthand accounts from these scientists and Inuit community members to reveal how traditional knowledge and experience, coupled with scientific research, heighten the understanding of narwhals and the changing global climate.

“The narwhal gives us unique insight into the changing arctic and inspires us to preserve and protect its environment, cultures and creatures,” said William Fitzhugh, curator of the exhibition and director of the Arctic Studies Center.

Featuring an 18-foot, life-size model of a male narwhal, the exhibition examines “the unicorn of the sea.” Visitors will learn what the narwhal tusk is for, test their tooth knowledge, examine a cast of a skull from a prehistoric narwhal relative and compare the different ways that narwhals and their whale relatives have adapted to the Arctic environment. Panoramic images of landscapes and a soundscape of narwhal vocalizations, ice and water flows and other Arctic wildlife will immerse visitors in the Arctic environment of the narwhal.

“The narwhal has fascinated people for centuries with its unusual tusk,” said Tony Pasour, head of interpretation at The Schiele. “By bringing this exhibit to our region, we’re able to share this distinctive animal, surrounded by legends and shrouded in folklore, with our visitors and help them understand and appreciate their uniqueness.”

The exhibition highlights how the narwhal and its tusk have inspired medieval European unicorn imagery and legend. Visitors can read the Inuit legend of the narwhal, illustrated by artwork from Inuit community members. Much of what is known about narwhal behavior comes from observations collected by the Inuit over generations. Audiences will learn what the Inuit have learned and how environmental changes are affecting the way of life for both narwhal and Inuit.

See a time-lapse video of the narwhal being suspended from the museum ceiling.

The “Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend” exhibit is included with museum admission will be on display through August 8, 2021. The museum will be open for visitors:

  • Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Sundays from 1 – 5 p.m.
  • Mondays – Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, please visit schielemuseum.org or follow The Schiele Museum on social media.