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Unicorn of the Sea: Narwhal Facts

narwhal out of water

Often dubbed the unicorns of the sea, narwhals are strange and beautiful creatures with long tusks protruding from their heads. Members of the population of more than 80,000 can weigh up to 4,200 pounds and grow as long as 17 feet in length.

Check out some common questions about these near-threatened whales.

1. What is a narwhal tusk?

The narwhal tusk—most commonly found on males—is actually an enlarged tooth with sensory capability and up to 10 million nerve endings inside. Some narwhals have up to two tusks, while others have none. The spiraled tusk juts from the head and can grow as long at 10 feet.

2. Where do narwhals live?

Unlike some whale species that migrate, narwhals spend their lives in the Arctic waters of Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. Most narwhals winter for up to five months under sea ice in the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait area.

3. What threats do narwhals face?

Oil and gas development and climate change pose threats to narwhals. Increased development means more shipping vessels, creating more opportunities for collisions and more underwater noise that can interfere with communication among the whales. WWF helps raise awareness of and address the threat of noise pollution on narwhals and other whales. The Don’t Be a Buckethead initiative delves further into this topic.

4. What do narwhals eat?

Narwhals feed on Greenland halibut, Arctic and polar cod, squid and shrimp. They do their chomping at the ice floe edge and in the ice-free summer waters.

5. How deep do narwhals dive?

Narwhals can dive a mile-and-a-half deep in the ocean. Cracks in the sea ice above allow them to pop up for air when they need it.

6. What color are narwhals?

Narwhals change color as they age. Newborns are a blue-gray, juveniles are blue-black and adults are a mottled gray. Old narwhals are nearly all white.

7. How do we learn more about narwhals?

WWF learns more about the movements of narwhals through satellite tracking. We document the paths of narwhals during their annual feeding and reproductive routines to better understand the species.

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