They're called the unicorns of the sea. Narwhals are Arctic dwellers, related to belugas and unique because the left tooth of male narwhals grows into a twisted tusk.
Now, researchers tell us, they may become the poster child for endangered Arctic wildlife.
The March 2008 issue of the journal Ecological Applications is devoted entirely to the topic of "Arctic Marine Mammals and Climate Change." Narwhals are considered the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on northern ecosystems.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Stanford University biologist Terry Root (who wasn't part of the study) said the analysis published in the journal reinforces her concern that the narwhal "is going to be one of the first to go extinct" from climate change despite a relatively healthy population today.
"There could a bazillion of them, but if the habitat or the things that they need are not going to be around, they're not going to make it," Root told AP science writer Seth Borenstein.
The journal, published by the Ecological Society of America, evaluated the status of 11 Arctic marine mammals. In addition to narwhals, other species at greatest risk include polar bears, hooded seals, bowhead whales and walruses.
There's a lot we can do -- individually and as a society -- to tackle the growing volume of carbon dioxide we're putting into the atmosphere. It's the challenge of our lifetime, and well worth the effort -- for the narwhals and ourselves.