The narwhal is an elusive whale of medium size. These animals live in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans around Canada, Greenland, Russia, and Norway. Sometimes, these animals are called the ‘unicorn of the sea.’
The male narwhal has only one sword-like spiral tusk, which usually protrudes from their heads. These warm-blooded mammals belong to the family Monodontidae, which also includes some other popular animals like the pure-white beluga whale.
Some of these narwhals even have nine feet long tusks. So, in this article, we will now discuss some really amazing facts about these interesting sea animals called narwhals.
Exploring Narwhal facts
There is an interesting story behind the origin of narwhals.’
As per an Inuit legend, the tusk of narwhals was formed when a woman with a harpoon tied to her waist was forcibly dragged out to sea after hunting a big narwhal.
That woman was soon transformed into a narwhal. Also, her hair, which was tied back in a twisted knot, turned out to be the beautiful spiraling tusk of a narwhal.
Narwhals have some of the best teeth among most animals
The narwhal is easily recognized because of its long-spiraled “unicorn horn.” However, that horn of the narwhal is not a horn at all but an enlarged ivory tooth.
The male narwhals have two of these teeth. One can grow up to ten feet long and weigh almost 22 pounds; the other is one foot long and is embedded in the skull.
Also, around 15% of female narwhals will even grow one of these strong and long teeth.
Living places of narwhals
Narwhals usually live in the cracks of the packed ice for most of the year in the Canadian and Greenlandic Arctic.
Like many other types of whales, these narwhals have predictable migration patterns. However, unlike some whale species, these animals never leave the Arctic waters.
Narwhals make annual migrations from the high Arctic summering grounds in the coastal bays of Canada and West Greenland to offshore wintering grounds in deeper waters. This way, they will not be trapped by fast ice and can stay close to some easy food sources.
The tusk of the sea unicorn
The tusks of narwhals are made of ivory, and hence, these are actually teeth. The tusk of a narwhal spirals out of its jaw’s upper left side and even through its teeth. These tusks may extend almost 10 feet or 3 meters in length.
The average length of a narwhal is between 13 to 18 feet, and without their tusks, the male narwhals weigh almost 800 to 1600 kg.
English explorer Martin Frobisher
In 1577, the English explorer Martin Frobisher saw a dead narwhal and described it as a sea unicorn.
As myths regarding unicorn horns had circulated around entire Europe for several centuries before this exploration of Martin Frobisher, and after this discovery, many people became familiar with these interesting animals.
Uses of narwhals’ tusks
Narwhals use their tusks for hunting. These animals can hunt fish with their tusks, which is also related to their mating procedure. Narwhals usually flick their tusk and stun their prey instead of stabbing them.
Narwhals usually swim toward their prey and suck them into their toothless mouths with considerable force and then swallow them whole.
Male narwhals use their long tusks to determine social status, as well as dominance over other male narwhals, and compete for mating females.
Narwhals can withstand the incredible pressure of water.
Narwhals have comprehensive rib cages, which these animals can squeeze without harming them when swimming at incredible depths.
Also, these animals have twice the concentration of myoglobin. They can bind oxygen in their muscles like seals, enabling them to swim underwater at one meter per second for up to 20 mins without taking a single breath.
Narwhals are one of the deepest diving animals.
Narwhals are considered one of the deepest diving animals on the planet because they can dive around 1.1 miles or 1.8 kilometers in depth without returning to the surface for more than 25 minutes.
During winter months, male narwhals have been seen making some of the deepest dives ever registered.
Some regular dives of these sea animals are at least 800 meters, 10 to 25 times a day. Most of these dives are virtually vertical, which can maximize the speed to a great extent.
Female narwhals give birth once in three years.
The pregnancy of a narwhal lasts for around 14 months, and calves are born mainly in the spring.
Narwhals are mammals, meaning they give birth and produce milk for their young. The narwhal calves are dependent on milk for almost 20 months.
Humans rarely see narwhals.
Narwhals are difficult to study or even see because no other types of females live so far north, in the ocean’s coldest and most remote parts.
Famous National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen tried various techniques to track them down for ten years.
For this success, he worked with local Inuit guides and used an ultra-light airplane to track down a pod.
These mammals are vulnerable to ice entrapment.
If narwhals cannot leave their summering grounds before Autumn, or even during the sudden changes in weather conditions, like quick drops in temperature or shifts in the wind, they can be trapped by ice.
The breathing holes of these mammals may be reduced in size or even freeze completely, resulting in drowning.
The largest entrapment was recorded in West Greenland in 1915, where more than 1000 narwhals were trapped under the ice.
Narwhals’ tusks can work as sensory organs.
Even though narwhals use their tusks to stun other fishes, they do not assault people with their tusks.
These tusks are sensory organs that detect environmental changes and store vital ecological information. This specific device of these fascinating mammals is used to process and send information depending on external stimuli.
Also, when disturbed by humans, these animals prefer to dive to save themselves instead of attacking others.
The food and lifespan of a narwhal
Food for this sea animal includes cod from the Antarctic and Arctic, halibut from Greenland, and shrimp and squid from the open ocean.
During the restricted winter months, these animals eat halibut and flatfish, found on the bottom of the sea in the Davis Strait and the Baffin Bay. However, they eat cod, cuttlefish, squid, and shrimp in the summer.
The lifespan of this amazing animal ranges from 25 to 50 years, with some of the oldest having an age between 105 and 125 years.
Collectors highly value narwhals’ tusks.
Also, Queen Elizabeth, I am said to have bought a narwhal tusk of 10000 Euros and had it placed within the crown’s jewels.
In 2009, 7 tusks of narwhals were put up for auction legally in ‘The Gentleman’s Library Sale’ held at Bonhams. However, a campaign organized by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society got to see them removed.
The population of narwhals
Narwhals have a current estimated number of 45000 to 80000. According to the researchers at The Royal Society, by the end of this century, the population of narwhals will be reduced because of rising water temperatures.
Also, animals like polar bears, killer whales, and walruses are well-known predators of narwhals. Young narwhals are hunted by polar bears that try to swat at the breathing apertures of the animals’.
Greenland sharks and Walruses usually prey on weak Narwhals, so narwhals tend to dive under the ice to save themselves.
Narwhals’ blubber is several inches thick.
Due to extremely cold water in the Arctic region, narwhals’ have notably more blubber than a normal whale, which usually has a fat of between 20-30%.
Change in the climate is the primary threat to narwhals
The drastic changes in weather and seasonal ice expansion are believed to be causing more ice entrapment, while the number of their prey, the halibut, will be less dense in warmer waters. With less amount of ice, narwhal also becomes more vulnerable to predators like Killer Whales.
They can withstand extreme ice instead of warmer climates. Experts say their fate and habitat are directly tied to the ice.
Hunting narwhals in Greenland and Canada is legal by Greenland hunters and Canadian Inuit.
Since the year 2004, there have been narwhal hunting quotas. An average of 979 narwhals were caught globally every year from 2007 to 2011.
These animals have been harvested for thousands of years by local people who rely on them for food and their economy.
Narwhals don’t have a dorsal fin.
Like several other Arctic whales like beluga and bowhead, narwhals do not have a dorsal fin. The lack of a dorsal fin helps narwhal and other Arctic whales reduce surface area, prevent heat loss, and swim under ice sheets.
Also, another amazing factor about narwhal is that it changes color with age. Newborn narwhals are usually speckled blue-grey, whereas adults are only speckled grey, and the old are almost completely white.
Narwhals’ skin is rich in vitamin C
Actually, there is almost as much vitamin C in one ounce of the skin of a narwhal as there is in one ounce of orange.
The skin of this mammal is a primary source of vitamins for Arctic Inuit people. According to BBC, the Inuits might not have survived in some parts of the Arctic without narwhals.
So, narwhals are amazing sea mammals with many interesting adaptations and characteristics.
At the end of this article, we learned about 20 really amazing facts about these fascinating sea mammals called narwhals.
These facts offer us a clear picture of this interesting animal in the Arctic region. If you want to collect some more amazing facts, you may visit our website.
I’m a former teacher with a background in child development and a passion for creating engaging and educational activities for children. I strongly understand child development and know how to create activities to help children learn and grow. Spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, and volunteering in my community.