Animal of the Month
May 2019

Name: Narwhal

Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Monodontidae
Genus: Monodon
Species: M. monceros

Size: 13-20 feet long
Weight: 01.5 tons

Characteristics: Long wide, smooth body, two fins and a large tail, roundish head. Males possess a long spiraled horn-like tusk; females either lack a tusk or grow a small tusk. On rare occasions a male will grow two tusks.
Newborns are blue-gray; juveniles are blue-black, adults display a black and grayish-white spotted pattern; elderly individuals are almost all white.
Behavior: Migratory, lives in groups.
Preferred Habitat: Waters, namely coasts and rivers.
Range: Arctic waters of Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway.
Diet: Fish, shrimp, squid and other aquatic creatures.

Lifespan:Around 50 years.

Some Least Concern, some consider them to be near threatened.

Is it possible that unicorns exist? There is a sort of unicorn that lurks in the arctic seas-the narwhal! Nicknamed the unicorn of the sea, narwhals are a kind of toothed whale. They are found in the northern waters of Canada, Norway, Greenland and Russia.

Narwhals are porpoises, cousins of belugas, dolphins and orcas. They live in groups of 15-20, though sometimes they will gather in groups of hundreds or even thousands. Narwhals love to eat squid and shrimp, and species of fish like halibut and certain types of cod. They are capable of diving a mile and a half underwater! They use cracks in the sea ice to surface and breathe between dives. Narwhals have to watch out for a variety of predators, namely polar bears, orcas, Greenland sharks and occasionally walruses.

The most striking feature of the narwhal is their tusks. Like an elephant, the tusk is actually a gigantic tooth! Usually only males grow a single tusk, but on rare occasions a female will grow a small tusk. Sometimes a narwhal will grow two tusks! Scientists aren't exactly sure what narwhals use their tusks for; some people think it is to fight rivals or impress females. Others believe they use their tusks for hunting.

Narwhals mate in April or May. Female narwhals begin to birth calves at six-to-eight years old. They carry their single baby for fourteen months before giving birth. A narwhal calf will nurse from its mother for about twenty months before going to live on its own.

Narwhals are currently classed as near threatened. Inuit tribes have hunted narwhals for many years for their meat and their skin, which is a source of vitamin C. Today some Inuit tribes are allowed to legally hunt narwhals as their ancestors did. These toothed whales are particularly susceptible to climate change. Narwhals depend on arctic ice to find prey and to evade predators; as the ice melts, narwhals become more vulnerable. Noise pollution caused by shipping also disrupts their behavior and drives them away from feeding and breeding grounds. Pollution, offshore mining and oil drilling are also threats to the narwhal's existence.

As the threats to narwhals grow, many dedicated scientists and organizations are working to help preserve these amazing animals. The World Wildlife Fund advocates for narwhals by raising awareness about noise pollution and pushing for stronger international policies. Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) is also working to establish marine sanctuaries to protect narwhals and other cetaceans. With time and hard work, these "unicorns of the sea" will not be myths in the future.

To learn more about these amazing creatures and how to save them, check out these fantastic organizations:

World Wildlife Fund, Narwhal page-Check out what WWF is doing to protect narwhals and other animals!

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Narwhal page-WDC is dedicated to pro-tecting narwhals and whales and dolphins by creating healthy seas, reducing bycatch, fighting whaling and more.


Contact Us