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17 Interesting Facts About Narwhals

Last Reviewed and Updated on June 26, 2022

You may already know that they have a long tusk and that they’re mammals, but there are many other interesting facts about narwhals you will learn in this article. 

There are also still many things about narwhals that scientists and researchers don’t yet know about them! They truly are unicorns of the sea.

1. Narwhals are whales

Narwhals are actually a type of whale. They are related to beluga whales and both belong to the Monodontidae family.

2. Their name may have derived from a Norse word for a corpse

The name narwhal is believed to derive from the Old Norse word nár, which means corpse. This is because of the color of their pale skin, resembling that of a corpse. The hvalr means whale.

3. Generally only male narwhals have a tusk (or two)

Tusks are generally only present in males and on rare occasions they can even have two tusks. Females only rarely grow tusks.

4. Their tusk is a modified canine tooth

Their tusk is an enlarged spiralized tooth, and as with teeth, tusks have nerve endings inside.

5. They don’t have teeth in their mouth

How freaky is that? The tusk is a tooth and they do have another tooth or two in the tooth sockets in the snout, if you look into their mouth you won’t find any. When they eat, they swallow their prey whole.

6. Their tusks grow throughout their life

Their tusks are ever-growing and can reach an impressive length of 10 ft / 3.5m. They will get longer and thicker every ear.

7. The purpose of the tusk is still not entirely known

There have been many studies made as to what the purpose the tusk serves, and there still isn’t a consensus about what the predominant use of the tusk is. It could be used in mating rituals (impressing the females), this being one of the most likely purposes, it could be a sensory tool or even something that helps them with hunting.

8. They live predominantly in the Arctic waters

You will find these sea mammals in the Arctic waters of Norway, Greenland, Russia, and Canada.

Most of the population can be found in the Canadian Arctic during the summer.

9. Narwhals are deep divers

It’s one of the deepest diving whales and can dive deeper than 5000 feet / 1500 meters. They can repeat these deep dives multiple times a day. They will dive deep when they are in search of food and there isn’t enough in shallower waters, especially in winter.

10. Their dives can last up to around 25 minutes

Like all mammals, narwhals need oxygen from the surface to breathe, they can’t breathe underwater. They can “hold their breath” for long periods of time, which makes their deep dives possible. They can make these deep dives and stay underwater for about 25 minutes. When closer to the surface, they will come up for air more often, about every 5 minutes.

11. Narwhals can drown, and they drown relatively often

This may come as one of the most surprising facts about narwhals; one of the most common causes of death for narwhals is drowning.

They need oxygen from the surface and if the open water isn’t accessible anymore and the ice is too thick for them to break, they will suffocate.

12. They vocalize with clicks, whistles, and knocks

They are very talkative and they are social animals as they typically travel in groups,

13. Their predators are killer whales and polar bears

You would think having a massive tusk would keep you safe, but this isn’t the case. Narwhals also don’t use their tusks to defend themselves, so in this regard, it is pretty useless.

Killer whales are their number one predator. Polar bears will feed upon narwhals too, but to a much lesser extent and more opportunistically than regularly.

Walrus will take a chance on a narwhal as well if it’s trapped by ice.

14. Humans still pose a great threat to narwhals

These animals are still hunted by humans even though the species is near threatened.

15. Narwhal tusks were once believed to be the horns of a unicorn

This is one of the facts about narwhals that isn’t hard to believe. With their single horn, they basically are unicorns.

When people in the middle ages found their tusks they thought they belonged to unicorns.

16. A group of narwhals called a blessing

Now that’s a cool name for a group of animals. Always a blessing to see a blessing of narwhals.

17. Narwhals don’t have dorsal fins

The dorsal fin is the fin on top of a fish or sea mammal’s back. All normal fish have dorsal fins and most marine and freshwater mammals have them too, but narwhals are one of the few that don’t have one.

The absence of it helps narwhals prevent heat loss among other things.

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