Philippe Cousteau Talks Narwhals, Does His Best Steve Zissou Impression

They had us at "narwhals." Ocean conservationist Phillippe Cousteau gives viewers the rundown on the "unicorns of the sea" in the leadoff clip, titled "On That Time Mankind Was Fooled," from his new online video series, The Aquatic World with Philippe Cousteau.

The series is produced by CNN's online video spinoff, Great Big Story — and as might be expected from a title that nods to a Wes Anderson film, it's a bit quirky. Seated in a "submarine" that appears to have been built around the wood-paneled den of a 1976 split-level, Cousteau knocks back Campari on the rocks as he lays out narwhal knowledge.  

 

"They don't migrate like other whale species," Cousteau, the grandson of legendary undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, tells viewers between healthy gulps. "They spend their entire lives in icy Arctic waters, hunting squid, fish, and crab."

The narwhal's spiral tusk, which can grow up to 10 feet long and is useful for attracting mates, was once highly prized — and turns out to be highly sensitive. "Typically, these are only found on males and are actually full of up to 10 million nerve endings, helping the narwhal detect pressure, salt levels, even temperature in the water," Cousteau says.

More than 80,000 narwhals are believed to roam the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, according to World Wildlife Federation estimates. They've inspired tales of unicorns and sea monsters throughout the centuries, as well as the occasional YouTube earworm. They're close cousins to beluga whales, and their tusks make up part of the historic throne of Denmark.