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Published: Saturday June 21, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday June 21, 2014 MYT 7:58:24 AM

Special gift from a Whampoa

THE sword-like tusk of a whale known as the “unicorn of the ocean” will take pride of place at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum when it opens next year.

The narwhal tusk, which is at least 200 years old, had belonged to businessman “Whampoa” Hoo Ah Kay, one of Singapore’s pioneers of the 1800s.

On Wednesday, his greatgranddaughter Hoo Miew Oon, 79, donated the family heirloom to the museum, formerly known as the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

The 2.7m-long tusk, which when placed upright is as tall as the tallest human in history, had been given to Whampoa in the 1860s by the Russian government, for whom he was consul in Singapore.

It then remained in his family for four generations. It is considered a rare specimen, as these tusks grow only as long as 3m.

“I will miss it,” Hoo said at her Dempsey home, as professional movers engaged by the museum packed the spirally tusk.

But she insisted this was the right time to give it up.

The artefact is her “treasured birthday gift” to the nation for its 50th year of independence next year, she added, happy that the public will finally be able to see it.

The narwhal tusk is actually an extremely long tooth of the male of the species. The mammals have other teeth that usually remain much shorter.

While scientists are uncertain of the tusk’s exact purpose, they believe it to be used for mating rituals, and for males to fight off rival suitors.

Narwhals are considered a moderately threatened species, with an estimated 75,000 still alive in waters around the Arctic circle.

The Inuit people in northern Canada and Greenland have hunted them for their tusks and skin for more than a thousand years.

The museum’s project manager, Dr Tan Swee Hee, called the donation “unprecedented”, and said it takes on added importance because of its provenance.

“We have never had anything so spectacular donated to us.” — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Tags / Keywords: World, regional, whampoa, sword

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