February 26, 2024

A pod of male narwhal (Monodon monoceros) surfacing for air through seal holes and rotten ice while searching for cod in Nunavut, Canada.

The narwhal or narwhal is a medium-sized toothed whale that has a large “tusk” of a protruding canine. It lives year round in the arctic waters around Greenland, Canada, and Russia. Along with the beluga whale, it is one of two living species of whale in the Monodontidae family. Narwhal is also known as “Moon Whale” and the “unicorn of the sea”. Narwhals are hunted by Inuit people because of their skin, tusks and as a source of food.

The spiraled tusk juts from the head and can grow as long at 10 feet.

Narwhals are large animals. Males are larger than females. Males can reach length of 16 feet and weigh of 1.8 tones. Females are few feet shorter, usually weighing less than one ton.

Most narwhals winter for up to five months under sea ice in the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait area.

Narwhals are close relatives of bottlenose dolphins, orcas, belugas and harbour porpoise.

Oil and gas development and climate change pose threats to narwhals.

Color of narwhal skin depends on its age. At birth, narwhal’s skin is bluish-grey. Juvenile animals have bluish-black color of the skin. Adult animals are mottled grey. Very old narwhals are almost entirely white.

Narwhals feed on Greenland halibut, Arctic and polar cod, squid and shrimp. They do their chomping at the ice floe edge and in the ice-free summer waters.

Name “narwhal” means “corpse whale”. They are named that way because they often swim with their bellies at the surface of water. Also, they can remain motionless in that position for several minutes.

Narwhals change color as they age. Newborns are a blue-gray, juveniles are blue-black and adults are a mottled gray. Old narwhals are nearly all white.

Narwhals can dive to the depth of 5000 feed while they are searching for food.

Narwhals are related to bottlenose dolphins, belugas, harbor porpoises, and orcas.

Narwhals are carnivores (meat-eaters). They feed on fish, shrimps, squids, cods.

They are often sighted swimming in groups of 15 to 20, but gatherings of hundreds—or even several thousands—of narwhals have been reported.

Narwhals swim in groups called “pods”. Pods can be very large, composed of hundreds of animals. More often, pods are smaller, composed of 2 to 10 animals. Often, pods consist of animals of only one sex.

Narwhals also have a right canine which stays embedded in their mouths.

Narwhals communicate using clicks, squeals and whistles. These high-pitched sounds may induce deafness in humans.

There are millions of nerve endings in each tusk that may help this species locate food.

Narwhals have only two teeth. One of them grows rapidly and passes right through the upper lip, becoming a tusk. Tusk is the most prominent feature of the narwhal’s body.

Over the summer months, the Canadian Arctic is home to about 90 per cent of the world’s narwhal population.

Tusk is made of ivory. It is spiral, hollow and can reach the length of up to 8.8 feet.

Whales, like the narwhal, are near the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment.

Females also develop tusks, but their tusks are much shorter than tucks in males.

The narwhal is also an iconic and culturally significant species in the North. Inuit communities have long lived alongside narwhal and rely on the mammal as a source of food.

Scientists are not sure why narwhals develop tusks. They probably use tusks during mating rituals, to attract females, and to gain a chance to mate. Males can broke tusks during the fight. Broken tusk cannot be repaired (it does not re-grow).

Narwhals also feature prominently in Inuit stories and artwork.

Mating takes place during spring. Males reach sexual maturity between the age 8 and 10. Pregnancy lasts 14 to 15 months and ends with one baby.

You can spot narwhal at the northern reaches of Baffin Island, Nunavut during the annual migration to their summer feeding grounds in May and June.

Baby narwhal is brown at birth. It is usually 5 feet long and can have 175 pounds of weight.

Narwhal populations are estimated at 80,000, with more than three-quarters spending their summers in the Canadian Arctic.

Narwhal can survive up to 50 years in the wild.

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