Fact Sheet
Narwhal

Basic Facts About Narwhals

The "unicorn of the ocean," the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is one of the rarest whales in the world. Narwhals are very elusive and mysterious in nature, and very distinct in appearance due to the large horn-like tusk on their faces. The tusk is actually a tooth that grows from the upper jaw of male narwhals.

Diet

Narwhals consume squid, fish and shrimp.

Population

Narwhal population estimates indicate around 45,000-50,000 individuals.

Range

Narwhals are mostly found in the Atlantic and Russian waters of the Arctic. They have been known to travel around Greenland to eastern Russia. 

Behavior

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. Narwhals are migratory and move closer to the shore in the summer, while moving out to sea and living under packed ice in the winter months.

Most narwhals travel in pods of 10-100 individuals and sometimes in much larger groups. They communicate with various sounds like squeals, trills and clicks. The males often cross tusks in a behavior known as ‘tusking’. This may be a form of dueling, friendly contact or cleaning the tooth.

Reproduction
Mating Season:
March to May.
Gestation: Up to 16 months.
Litter Size: 1 calf.
Females give birth every 3 years or so and can nurse their calves for over a year. Calves tend to be brown with no spots.

Threats

Narwhals are mostly hunted by polar bears and orcas. Native Inuit people are also allowed to hunt this whale legally.

In addition, the narwhal’s habitat is threatened by the effects of climate change and pollution. Their small population size, limited range, and reliance on Arctic fish that are also being affected by climate-induced available food changes, make them extremely vulnerable. One recent study concluded that the narwhal might be even more sensitive to the impacts of climate change than the polar bear.