Welcome to this article about the Narwhal! The narwhal is a fascinating species of arctic whale with a protruding tusk on its frontal region. Exclusive to the arctic areas around Greenland and North Russia, this type of whale has amazed people in terms of mythology and culture for hundreds of years. Join us as we take a look at some facts behind this majestic sea creature.
Physical and Scientific Characteristics of Narwhal
- The scientific name of the narwhal is Monodon monoceros which translates from Latin to ‘One tooth One horn’.
- The closest living relative of the narwhal is the beluga whale and are part of the Monodontidae family. These members are almost always medium sized, having short snouts and lack the dorsal fin that is present in other whale species. Unlike whales, they also have joined neck vertebrae.
- The narwhal is distinguished by the protruding tusk which is actually an extension of the canine tooth! This is the front tooth that protrudes beyond the upper lip.
- It grows throughout the narwhal’s life and can be as long as 10 feet. After maturing, it grows and spirals towards the left. Unlike most mammalian teeth, they have a soft outer layer and a tough inner core.
- Some species can have a rare second tusk (usually one in 500 males).
- Contrary to males, only 15% of females grow a tusk which is often smaller than that of the male.
- The tusk is also considered to be a sensory organ that contains millions of nerves. This provides the narwhal with information regarding the environment it is in. Narwhals are known to rub their tusks with each other as means of communication.
- Narwhals can also use the tusk to stun any fish by tapping them so that feeding is made easier.
- These animals are medium-sized. Adult males usually grow up to around 15 ft while the females average around 11 ft.
- They tend to be typically white with brown/black spots covering the coat.
- Narwhals are concentrated to the arctic regions, predominantly around Northern Canada, Greenland and Russia. They are especially common in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago as well as within the fjords of Northern Canada and Western Greenland.
- Narwhals are capable of traveling to and surviving at oceanic depths of 1500m during the winter. Isn’t that a fascinating fact about narwhals?
- They are a migrating species. They travel to coasts around the Summer whereas, during the Winter, they are noted to swim offshore to deeper waters and sea level depth underneath pack ice.
Narwhal Behaviour and Diet
- Narwhals have a restricted diet. Their primary diet consists of halibut, cuttlefish, armhook squid, shrimp, and arctic or polar cod.
- When it comes to hunting for prey, they have been studied to swim towards the prey and then powerfully sucking it in with high force. This is primarily due to lack of proper dentition in the narwhal’s mouth.
- Narwhals usually travel in groups or ‘pods’ of around 20 others, particularly during the Summer. Groups can be varied, ranging from females and their offspring to a mixture with adult males.
- During summer months, they can form larger groups of up to 1000 individuals!
- Social dominance in groups can be demonstrated through ‘tusking’ where adult males will rub their tusks with one another. However, as mentioned previously, this may be for the purpose of communication as well.
- Narwhals have shown incredible diving skills and can dive up to depths of 1500 meters, particularly during the winter season. They usually dive for around 25 minutes and can do this around 15 times per day.
- In addition to communicating via ‘tusking’, they can also communicate through whistles and clicking noises.
- Mating occurs during April or May and the calves are born the following year after around 14 months of gestation. The calves are born with a coating of blubber which thickens when drinking milk from the mothers. They will rely on this milk for at least 20 months before moving on to its proper diet.
- Narwhals can live up to around 50 years in the wild. In captivity, they cannot survive for long so they are rarely bred outside their natural habitats.
- The predators that most likely can kill a narwhal are polar bears who attack at the breathing spots, particularly attacking juveniles. Killer whales can kill several narwhals under one attack as well.
Interesting Facts about Narwhals
- In addition to this, narwhals are also hunted by humans for their tusk, blubber, skin, and meat.
- Due to human action, these animals are unfortunately threatened and have shown evidence of decline. Conservation methods are being implemented to avoid this.
- They hold special significance to the Inuit culture, as one legend states how a woman was dragged into the ocean when trying to capture a narwhal. She became a narwhal and her hair turned into the tusk as she was pulled through the water while the twisted knot she wore became the spiral helix.
- In addition to this, Medieval Europeans also used to consider the tusk to be that of the mythical unicorn and that it had magical powers.
I hope that these facts about narwhals were informative for you. If you want to know more about other animals, visit animal fact page.