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Can You Help the FBI Locate a Missing Narwhal Tusk?

A skull with two long tusks protruding from it on display in a lighted shadowbox in a museum.
A narwhal skull with tusks on display at the Natural History Museum in London. Photo credit: Emőke Dénes on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Here at the American Alliance of Museums, we field frequent requests from people across the globe who have an interest in museums, are looking to engage with the broader museum community, or want to share their story on one of our publishing platforms. But until recently, there was one sort of person who had never contacted us: a representative of the FBI. That changed in December 2019, when Special Agent Randolph J. Deaton IV of the Bureau’s Art Crime Team reached out to us seeking information regarding a stolen and historically significant narwhal tusk, in hopes that through our network we might gain information on its whereabouts.

The History

According to Special Agent Deaton, the narwhal tusk in question was gifted by the famous polar explorer Robert Edwin Peary to Rear Admiral George Wallace Melville in or about the late 1800s. It was eventually donated to an institution in Pennsylvania, then stolen from its collection sometime prior to 1980. It is believed to have been sold in an auction of a private estate in Pennsylvania in or about 1981.

The whereabouts of the tusk are presently unknown, and it could be in a private or public collection. There is no image of the tusk to share, nor is its exact length known. Records from the victim institution confirm that this particular tusk existed and that it had a metal plate attached to it with a unique inscription, which in part identifies the collection location and expedition date.

About the FBI Art Crime Team

The FBI website has some information on Special Agent Deaton’s team:

“The FBI established a rapid deployment Art Crime Team in 2004. The team is composed of 20 special agents, each responsible for addressing art and cultural property crime cases in an assigned geographic region. The Art Crime Team is coordinated through the FBI’s Art Theft Program, located at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Art Crime Team agents receive specialized training in art and cultural property investigations and assist in art related investigations worldwide in cooperation with foreign law enforcement officials and FBI legal attaché offices. The U.S. Department of Justice provides special trial attorneys to the Art Crime Team for prosecutive support.

Since its inception, the Art Crime Team has recovered more than 15,000 items valued at over $800 million.“

How You Can Help

If you have any information concerning this particular narwhal tusk, please contact FBI Special Agent and Art Crime Team member Randolph J. Deaton IV of the FBI New Orleans Division at 504-816-3000.

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