Narwhals. Where do they live? What is that crazy horn for? Are narwhals even real? Get all your answers about the monodon monoceros with these amazing 27 narwhal facts.
The Modern Unicorn
We've all heard of unicorns; if you haven't, I'm worried about you… I mean, what rock have you been living under?
Anyway, we've all heard of unicorns. We like to believe that they're real, but that's… questionable. I've got an amazing animal for you whose existence is a little less mysterious. Let's check out this weird animal!
27 Narwhal Facts: Your Questions Answered
1. Are Narwhals Real?
Yes. The short answer is yes, they are. Which, if you googled this question, you probably already know.
Narwhals are sea mammals, closely related to beluga whales. They have a long tusk protruding from their face, which earns them some fame as “unicorns of the sea.”
2. Do Narwhals Still Exist?
Yes. They live in cold waters, exactly where is covered in #16.
3. Are Narwhals Close to Extinction?
No, as of May 2018. The narwhal has been classified as ‘least concern,' which means that they have been evaluated but do not fit into any of the other categories (extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, or conservation dependent).
So, in view of this update, things are looking up for our real-life unicorn! 🦄😄
4. What is a Narwhal's Horn Made of? Ivory?
Yes, the narwhal's tusk is ivory. However, the “horn” or “tusk” is actually a tooth. Narwhals only have two teeth.
But in males, one tooth grows through his upper lip and into a spiraling tusk that gets up to 8.8 feet (2.6 meters) long. This can also happen in females, but it is rare and not as prominent as the males (learn more in #7).
Very rarely, narwhals will actually have two horns. This occurs when both teeth grow through the upper lip (learn more in #8)
Hank Green over at SciShow puts it well when he says that the narwhal's horn is “the craziest snaggle-tooth ever.”
5. What is the Purpose of a Narwhal Tusk?
Contrary to popular belief, the tusk is not used to stab food. It is believed that the narwhal's tusk is a very powerful sensory organ.
Scientists believe that it can sense changes in its environment, such as the salt content of its watery home, and that it may help them find food and females that are ready to mate.
The tusk can also be used to stun fish. The narwhal will hit the fish upside the head with its tusk, making it much easier to catch and eat.
But know this: this article is a compilation of the most up-to-date info I could find about narwhals. Have something more recent? Let me know in the comments!
Why is it useful for the narwhal to sense salt content of water? What does it care? Well, and I found this very interesting, ice is made up of fresh water.
When ice freezes on the ocean, it sucks up the water and leaves the salt behind. So, by being able to detect the salinity of the water, the narwhal knows when the ice is about to freeze.
Which is very important because they need to get out of there, or they could become trapped in the ice (more in #13).
“The outer cementum layer of the tusk is porous, the inner dentin layer has microscopic tubes that channel toward the middle, and the pulp in the center has nerve endings that connect to the animal's brain. The structure makes the tusk sensitive to temperature and chemical differences in the environment.”
If you've ever had a chipped tooth and then tried to eat something cold, then you know it hurts like death itself. You can definitely feel that something is different!
Now, I'm not saying that the narwhal feels pain from its tusk. Only that, similar to a broken tooth, the narwhal can sense changes in its environment that prove very useful in finding food – and girlfriends.
6. Do Narwhal Horns Grow Back?
I could not find a reliable answer, but here are some things to consider. Horns on animals such as rams, bulls, and goats will grow back if they are not cut too close to the skull.
But, in animals such as elephants, their tusks won't grow back if the root is damaged. The elephant example seems to be more similar to the narwhal because the tusks in both animals are actually teeth.
So, I don't know. I searched the depths of the internet, but couldn't find anything reliable. If you know, please tell me in the comments and cite your source if possible.
Thanks for understanding that there is so much about this beautiful planet that we just don't know yet.
7. Do Female Narwhals Have Tusks?
Yes, occasionally. This is mostly a guy thing, but some females also sport the tusk (about 15%). Like how a few girls get souped-up hot rods, but it's mostly a thing that guys with low self-confidence do to get girls.
8. Is There a Two Tusked Narwhal?
Yes. Although it is rare, there is such a thing as a two tusked narwhal. About one in 500 males have two tusks.
In 1684 they discovered a female narwhal with two tusks, but this is the only known case. This occurs when both teeth grow through the upper lip.
9. Do Narwhals Need to Breathe Air?
Yes. Like all mammals (including whales and dolphins) narwhals need oxygen.
Why? Fish use their gills to extract oxygen from the water. But narwhals, like us, use their lungs to breathe.
10. How Long Can Narwhals Stay Underwater?
Narwhals can hold their breath for up to 25 minutes.
11. Do Narwhals Sleep?
Yes. Like pretty much, well, anything with a heartbeat, narwhals sleep. However, they don't do it the same way we do.
Unlike us, whales and other air-breathing sea animals like dolphins, are conscious breathers. This means they have to remember to breathe. I'm glad we're not conscious breathers; I would definitely be dead by now…
12. How Long do Narwhal Whales Live?
Narwhals live around 30-40 years. (Find out the narwhals threats and predators in the next two points.)
13. What Threats do Narwhals Face?
Climate change, humans, orcas, and polar bears (learn more in the next point).
Climate change is a big threat for narwhals because the dramatic temperature swings cause flash freezes which could cause the narwhals to be trapped in narrow channels of ice.
14. What Eats a Narwhal? (Predators of the Narwhal)
The narwhals main predators are orcas, polar bears, and people. Some indigenous cultures hunt the narwhal for food. Is it legal to hunt narwhals? Read on to find out!
15. Is it Legal to Hunt Narwhals?
Yes, in some areas. However, before you grab your spear gun and leave your heart at home, there are a few things you should know.
While it is legal for the northern Inuit population to hunt narwhals in Canada, importing them to the U.S is very illegal (unless it is for scientific purposes). And there is a limit on how many narwhals each community can capture each year.
While I definitely respect the culture, rights, and heritage of the Inuit people, I ask the rest of the population to leave these creatures alone. In my opinion that to kill an animal solely for the purpose of selling its horn is horrible.
The Inuit kill them for their food and other practical uses. But for the rest of us, I think we can live without a trophy horn!
16. What do Narwhals Eat?
The narwhals diet consists mainly of squid, shrimp, and fish.
Since narwhals only have two teeth (and in males, one of them is spiraling out of its head – more in #4), they don't really use their teeth to eat like we do. They suck their food in like a vacuum.
17. How Much Does a Narwhal Eat in a Day?
About 66 pounds (30 kilograms). That's like eating 264 cheeseburgers! Of course, narwhals don't eat cheeseburgers. But that's not the point.
For the math lovers:
Narwhals eat 66lb (1056 oz.)
A cheeseburger weighs about 4 oz, so 1056 oz / 4 oz = 264 cheeseburgers 😊
that was fun…
18. Where do Narwhals Live?
Narwhals, unlike me, are big fans of the cold. They live in the Arctic waters of Canada, Russia, Norway, and Greenland.
It is believed that around 90% of narwhals live in the Baffin Bay – which is around western Greenland and Canada.
19. Do Narwhals Have Blubber? How Much?
Yes. Because narwhals live in such cold water (previous point) they are made up of 40% blubber, or fat.
This blubber helps to keep them warm and, like a wetsuit, provides buoyancy (helps them float).
20. How Much Does a Narwhal Weigh?
Males weigh around 3500 lbs (1600 kg) and females weigh around 2200 lbs (1000 kg).
21. How Long is a Narwhal?
At birth, narwhal babies are around 5 ft (1.5 m) long. Males can grow up to be 20 ft (6 m) and females up to 11 ft (3.5 m).
22. Do Narwhals Make Sounds? Do They Echolocate?
Yes to both questions. They make echolocation clicks and whistles. If you ask me, it sounds like sneakers on a basketball court – yes, I know I'm weird.
Hear more narwhal noises on Vimeo
23. Are There Any Narwhals in Captivity?
No. This is one of the reasons we know so little about these amazing animals – and why some people don't think they even exist.
All attempts at keeping narwhals in captivity have ended sadly: all the animals have died shortly after being captured. I guess that these amazing real-life unicorns are just meant to be free.
24. Are Narwhals Aggressive to Humans?
No. They might be aggressive if you poke them pointy sticks in a small glass tank for 2 hours, but they generally prefer to run away rather than spar with you. They're just big squishy cuties.
25. What is the Narwhal's Latin Name?
The narwhal's Latin name is “monodon monoceros.” This means “one tooth, one horn.”
The word “narwhal” is an Old Norse word that means “corpse whale.” The narwhal was dubbed corpse whale because of its greyish complexion which mirrored that of drowned sailors. Yuck.
26. Are Narwhals Whales or Dolphins?
Whales. Narwhals are whales that are related to dolphins, orcas, porpoises, and belugas.
You can definitely see the resemblance – narwhals look basically like grey belugas with a unicorn horn.
27. So, is a Narwhal a Unicorn?
Well, that depends on who you ask. It definitely isn't a horse with a horn, but it does share that fantastical horn with its the unicorn that is of… debated existence?
However, narwhal horns were sold as unicorn horns! And for a very hefty price: ten times their weight in gold.
So, sure. If the unicorns identifying feature actually came from a narwhal, then yeah; narwhals are unicorns.
Do you agree with me? Disagree? Tell me in the comments!
And that is why I don't try to be clever (who says “nifty” anymore!?).
Anyway, this has been 27 of the most common questions about narwhals – answered! Do you have any you think just have to be added to this list? Tell me in the comments and I will do my best to answer it.
9 Awesome Narwhal Products (I love #6!)
Check out some of the awesome narwhal products I found on Amazon! I need cash now…
This is the best-rated book about narwhals that I could find. Check it out on Amazon.
WOTOGOLD Animal Cosplay Costume Unisex Adult Narwhal Pajamas – These are so cute! I think I would live in them :).
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea – I haven't read the whole book, but it is so cute! It looks like a great kids book. It made me laugh so I'm sure kids would love it! They even made finger puppets to go along with the book.
Cute Narwhals Notebook (Composition Book, Journal) (8.5 x 11 Large) – Okay, so this is just a notebook. But I think it's adorable! The design is both cute and funky. I'm seventeen, so I like things that can fall in the middle somewhere. I would love to have this notebook!
Smoko Adorable Narwhal Slippers, Unicorn of the Sea, Plush Squishy Moccasins – Oh my goodness I love these so much! They are adorable, and the colors are more realistic than some of the turquoise narwhal products you'll find (I love those too, but these are more true-to-nature).
Grey Narwhal Ceramic 3d Coffee Mug Unicorn of the Sea – No joke, I think this might be my favorite on this list. It is so adorable, and it's something you can use all the time!
Fred PUSHFINS Narwhal Pushpins, Set of 20 – If you need to stick something to anything, these are your guys! I love that the narwhal's horns are the push pins.
Bellzi Teal Narwhal Stuffed Animal Plush Toy – Adorable Plushie Toys and Gifts! – These would be such a sweet gift for a little girl or boy (or me)! They look so soft…
Narwhal Horn Candy, 0.88 Oz – I can't vouch for the flavor of these candies, but I think the tin is worth the purchase. They would be a very funny gift.
Okay, I'm done 😊
I hope you've enjoyed learning about one of my favorite animals! Let me know what animal you'd like to see covered, and what you'd like to know about it. See you soon!
How did you find me? What brought you here? I love to hear from you, so let me know in the comments! (I'm desperate, can't you tell? Please comment! 😂)
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.