Narwhals are rare whales that are very distinct in appearance. They have large horn-like tusk on their face. The tusk is actually a tooth that grows from the upper jaw of male narwhals. These whales are very elusive and mysterious in nature. Narwhal which means ‘corpse whale’ are rarely seen Arctic whales. Narwhals are one of two species of white whales, the others being the Beluga whales.
Narwhals are the unicorn of the sea Long ago, narwhal sightings reinforced (or started) the unicorn legends. In medieval times, Narwhal tusks that washed ashore were thought to be from the mythical unicorn.
Narwhals have a cylindrical body with no dorsal fin. They have a round head with a small mouth on their blunt snout. This compact body shape plus a thick layer of blubber retains heat in the icy Arctic waters in which they live.
Adult Narwhals are white on the dorsum (belly side) and white and mottled on the ventral side. Older adults have only a narrow dark triangular band extending from the back of the neck at its widest portion to a point ending on the midline of the back.
These legendary animals have two teeth. In males, the more prominent tooth grows into a sword-like, spiral tusk up to 10 feet long. The ivory tusk tooth grows right through the narwhal’s upper lip. Females sometimes grow a small tusk of their own, but it does not become as prominent as the male’s.
Early scientific theories suggested that the tusk was used to pierce the ice covering the narwhal’s Arctic Sea habitat. Others suggested the tusk was used in echolocation. More recently, scientists believed the tusk is primarily used for showmanship and for dominance: males with larger tusks are more likely to successfully attract a mate. The males often cross tusks in a behaviour known as ‘tusking’. This may be a form of duelling, friendly contact or cleaning the tooth.
Narwhals generally move slowly, but are known to be remarkably quick when chased by predators. They prefer to stay near the surface of the ocean, but can dive up to 5,000 feet. They are among the deepest-diving mammals.
Narwhals are a very vocal species of whale, making squeals, trills and clicks to communicate. These whales are generally seen in groups of 20 to 30 with varying combinations of male, female, and calves.
Narwhals are normally found in pods of two to 10. Pods (social groups of whales) of four to 20 narwhals have been observed; some groups consist of just one sex and others contain both sexes. Many pods may travel together, forming very large groups.
Narwhal’s gestation period is 10 to16 months. Young ones are grey or greyish brown. After two years, the skin becomes more mottled with overlapping white patches. The grey colour becomes more blackened. Young Narwhals are nursed for about four months after birth.
Narwhals grows up to 16 feet long and weigh about 1.8 tons.
Narwhals eat fish, squid, shrimp, and other marine animals. They feed near the sea floor, deep under the pack ice of the Arctic.
Narwhals can be mainly found in the Atlantic and Russian portions of the Antarctic. Narwhals live in the icy waters of the Arctic seas. During winter, they live in deep-water beneath ice pack in groups of five to 10 animals; in summer they migrate to shallow, ice-free summer grounds where they congregate in larger groups. They rarely stray far from ice.
Narwhals live for about 50 years.