Today’s Object of the Week, in Whitby, is a reminder of an industry once important to the town's prosperity, but which is now the subject of much international debate.

THE narwhal (Monodon Monoceros) is a medium-sized toothed whale to be found in the Arctic, primarily off Canada and Greenland.

It feeds mainly on flatfish, shrimp and squid up to 1,500 metres below the pack ice, can live up to 50 years and grow up to five metres long.

The male’s upper left canine has developed into long, straight, hollow tusk, which is not used for hunting.

The tusk’s function and that of it’s unusual spiral formation is uncertain, it may be used as a formidable jousting weapon in courtship and dominance rivalry, and/or for amplifying sonar pulses which they emit, as these are very social and communicative animals.

The scientific name is derived from the Greek: “one-tooth one-horn” or “one-toothed unicorn”.

Some medieval Europeans believed narwhal tusks to be the horns from the legendary unicorn, with possible magical properties to cure poison and melancholia.

This complete skeleton was one of the earlier objects to be collected by Whitby Museum, having come into its possession in 1825, the gift of Thomas Brodrick junior, of a local whaling family.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries Whitby was a prosperous port with booming shipbuilding and whaling industries.

Two of the most successful whaling captains were William Scoresby senior and his son, the Reverend Dr William Scoresby junior.

Whitby Museum has an extensive collection of objects and papers linked to Arctic whaling and to the Scoresby family.

William Scoresby senior (1760-1829) joined the crew of the whaling ship Henrietta in 1785, rising through the ranks to become captain in 1791. In 1806 he broke the British record for sailing furthest north, reaching latitude 80° 30′, with his son William junior as chief mate.

In 1807 he developed the crow’s nest, to provide shelter for the navigator at the top of the main mast and retired from whaling in 1823.

William Scoresby junior DD, FRS (1789-1857) was apprenticed to his father aged 13. At 17 he was promoted to chief mate and at 21 he replaced his father as captain of the Henrietta.

While at sea William junior studied the Arctic seas, their climate, currents and biology. In 1820 he published his Account of Arctic regions, which remains a standard work on the Greenland Whale Fishery.

In 1822 he mapped a large part of the east coast of Greenland, publishing his chart the following year. William junior finished whaling in 1823, aged 33, to train for the ministry.

Following his ordination in the Church of England, Scoresby was the first pastor of the Floating Church for seamen in Liverpool. In 1832 he moved to the Bedford Chapel in Exeter and in 1838 was appointed Vicar of Bradford.

In Bradford Scoresby tried to improve conditions for factory workers and succeeded in founding several Church schools for factory children. Scoresby resigned exhausted from Bradford in 1846 and visited the United States before settling near Torquay.

Dr Scoresby made a lifelong study of magnetism in order to improve the accuracy of the ship’s compass. He experimented with various grades of steel to improve the reliability of the compass needle.

He carried out experiments to discover the effects of iron on compasses, which were growing less reliable as the amount of metal in ships increased.

Scoresby collaborated with J P Joule in early experiments on electro-magnetism. In 1856 he travelled to Australia on the SS Royal Charter to measure changes in the angle of dip on either side of the equator.

l Whitby Museum, situated in the stunning surroundings of Pannett Park, is presently closed. Find out more on or follow it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.