The narwhal has just a few natural predators in the wild, including orcas, sharks, and humans, because of its huge size and extreme northern location. Narwhals are creatures that hunt for food in the frigid seas of the Arctic Ocean and the Northern Atlantic. They occasionally emerge in bigger numbers seeking oxygen, letting tourists and other passers-by to witness a fascinating display. Humans have traditionally hunted them for their vast resources, although they are not now endangered.
Narwhal Scientific Classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Cetacea
- Family: Monodontidae
- Genus: Monodon
- Scientific Name: Monodon monoceros
- Conservation Status: Near Threatened
- Main Prey: Squid, cod, halibut, and crustaceans
- Name Of Young: Calves
- Group Behavior: Group
- Fun Fact: Lives and hunts in the frigid Arctic!
- Estimated Population Size: More than 100,000 mature individuals
- Biggest Threat: Hunting and climate change
- Most Distinctive Feature: Prominent tusk
- Other Name(s): Narwhale or narwal
- Litter Size: One or two
- Habitat: Marine environments
- Predators: Sharks, killer whales, humans, polar bears, and walruses
- Diet: Carnivore
- Lifestyle: Group
- Common Name: Narwhal
- Location: Arctic and Atlantic Oceans
- Group: Mammals
Narwhal Physical Characteristics
- Colour: Grey
- Blue: BlackWhite
- Skin Type: Skin
- Top Speed:5 mph
- Lifespan: Up to 50 years
- Weight: 800kg – 1,600kg (1,800lbs – 3,500lbs)
- Length: 4m – 6m (13ft – 20ft), excluding tusk
- Age of Sexual Maturity: Up to nine years
3 Incredible Narwhal Facts!
- The species’ name comes from the Old Norse word nar, which meaning “death.” This refers to the animal’s light-colored skin. The species is sometimes known as a narwhale or a narwal.
- The narwhal is an animal that has played a significant part in the Inuit, Viking, Scottish, and English civilizations. Its horn was said to have magical and healing qualities. The Vikings fashioned the tusks into cups in the hopes of successfully stopping poison.
- Narwhals do not do well in captivity. All attempts to catch them have ended in the narwhal dying within months, preventing scientists from studying them up close and personal in order to learn more about their routines and activities.
Narwhal Scientific Name
Monodon monoceros is the scientific name for the narwhal. This is a Greek term that means “one tooth, one horn.” This species is the only one of the genus’s surviving members. As a result, the name narwhal can apply to both the species and the genus. It is also a member of the Monodontidae family. The beluga whale is the only other surviving member of the family. It is linked to all other whales, dolphins, and cetaceans on a more distant level.
Narwhal Appearance and Behavior
The narwhal is a creature that looks like a tiny whale. It is, nevertheless, rather tiny in comparison to other cetaceans. The narwhal is a huge marine animal with a body length of 13 to 20 feet and a tusk length of about 10 feet by any other standard. It also weighs 1.5 tonnes, which is quite a lot. It’s roughly the length of a bus and the weight of a vehicle as a result.
The narwhal has a thick coating of blubber that helps it survive in the cold waters of the north. The narwhal’s physical features, such as its capacity to lactate, demonstrate that it is completely a mammal. The blood’s specialized hemoglobin permits it to stay underwater for lengthy periods of time, but it must sometimes rise to collect oxygen from the air.
The narwhale lives and travels in pods of up to 20 or 25 individuals, however, some pods may only have a few narwhals in them. These pods combine during migration season to create a group of hundreds or perhaps thousands of individuals. When the pods arrive at their destination, they split off into smaller groups and go their separate ways. Other features of their social lives are mostly unknown. It is unclear how the groupings develop because they appear to be unorganized in terms of age, sex, or familial relationships.
Through different whistles, clicks, and knocks generated by the flow of air between chambers near the blowhole, they communicate with one another and acquire information about their surroundings, including the position of prey.
The ivory spiral tusk of the narwhal is a truly magnificent instrument. It is an outstanding sensory organ with over 10 million nerve endings that can acquire information about water pressure, temperature, and salt. This horn grows from a big tooth and then protrudes to the left through the upper lip of the head, giving it a unicorn-like look. The narwhal has two teeth, which is unusual. The second tooth is generally underdeveloped in most people, although it has been known to grow into a second tusk from the cranium in very rare situations.
The tusk’s function is unknown at this time. Scientists speculate, however, that it may be crucial in the narwhal’s mating ritual. Tusking is a narwhal behavior in which one bull rubs its tusk on the tusk of another bull. This might be connected to social dominance or sensory information communication. Because the male tusk is so much larger than the female tusk, it is unlikely to be used for food collection or defense.
The narwhale is the world’s northernmost cetacean species, inhabiting the frigid seas of Canada, Greenland, Russia, and Norway. Every year, it migrates between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, preferring the warmer, ice-free coastal waters in the summer and the colder, frozen seas in the winter. Depending on what it’s doing, the narwhal lives at various depths. It can dive over 3,000 feet beneath the surface in search of food when hunting. When migrating, however, it likes to stay nearer to the water’s edge.
The narwhal’s food is quite unique, consisting of squid, shrimp, cod, halibut, and other fish species. The seasons have a significant impact on the diet. In the summer, it may not eat at all, depending instead on fat reserves.
Narwhal Predators and Threats
The narwhal has just a few natural predators in the wild, including orcas, sharks, and humans, because of its huge size and extreme northern location. Polar bears and walruses, which have been observed to kill narwhals stuck in shallow pools of water near the ice and unable to move, are less common predators. The narwhal seeks comfort and security in bigger groups to avoid becoming prey. Adults can put up a good fight, therefore predators are more likely to target children, the ill, and the old.
Camouflage is also provided by the coloring. When viewed from below, the narwhale’s white stomach mixes in with the shallower water. The black back blends in with the deeper water below when viewed from above.
The Inuit have been hunting narwhals for thousands of years. Almost all of the narwhal’s parts are utilized. Lighting and cooking may be done using blubber and oil. Vitamin C is abundant in the flesh, which is otherwise difficult to come by in the Arctic. Tusks are also used to make spears and harpoons. In many regions of the Arctic, the practice is still practiced.
The narwhal was not threatened to the same extent as many other whale species by industrial-scale killing in the 19th and 20th centuries, but numbers did fall from their peak. However, hunting isn’t the only danger. Pollution (especially metal contamination) and climate change are major threats to the narwhal. As the waters warm, it not only affects the narwhal’s natural habitat but also makes the oceans more accessible to human activities like oil exploration and shipping.
Narwhal Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
In the summer following a 14-month gestation period, the female narwhale gives birth to one or two offspring. These calves are born tail first and are anticipated to start swimming as soon as they leave the womb. The calf will be protected and cared for for the next 20 months by the mother and the group and will acquire crucial social and survival skills. It’s unclear what type of involvement the father plays in the calf’s upbringing. Because the males and females tend to travel in groups, it is assumed that the father is invested in his offspring.
Narwhals live for a very long time and are quite hardy. In the wild, they are thought to live for up to 50 years. Although the exact age of sexual maturity is unknown, males are thought to require up to nine years. On average, the female conceives every two to three years, ensuring a steady supply of young calves.
There are roughly 123,000 adult narwhal individuals remaining in the world, according to the IUCN Red List, which maintains data about the conservation status of various species in the wild. It is classified as a species of least concern by the IUCN, which indicates it does not require any particular conservation measures to increase population numbers, while other groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, consider it near threatened. Climate change and other looming concerns may cause population reduction in the future.
View all 18 animals that start with N