Restricted to subpolar and polar waters above the Arctic Circle
Deep waters near the ice edge
Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales), Family Monodontidae (white whales)
The narwhal is one of just two species in the “white whales” family, the other being the beluga. As they are closely related and do not have the characteristic tusk of the males, juvenile and female narwhals can be incorrectly identified as belugas. Narwhals typically have more dark coloration, however, than their solid white cousins.
Narwhals are restricted to the Arctic Ocean and adjacent waters, most significantly on the Atlantic side. They feed in deep waters near the ice edge, where they eat large fishes and squids that live on or near the bottom; scientists report that they prefer cods and flatfishes. Killer whales and polar bears have been known to attack and eat Narwhals, and at least one Greenland shark has been captured with narwhal remains in its stomach, but it remains unclear if it hunted or scavenged that meal. When hunting narwhals, polar bears use incredible strength to pull them onto the surface of the ice.
Conservation scientists consider the narwhal to be near threatened with extinction. Climate change is causing rapid changes to the Arctic ecosystem that affect narwhal habitat, and chemical pollution in the Arctic is particularly bad, risking the health of large predators like narwhals. These whales are hunted, legally, by the indigenous peoples of Greenland and northern Canada, but this ongoing hunt is not generally thought to threaten the species. Climate change is likely a more significant threat to narwhal populations, though further research is necessary before accurate predictions can be made.
Fun Facts About Narwhals
1. Narwhals grow up to 18 feet (5.5 m) long and 3,530 pounds (1.6 metric tons).1
2. Narwhals are toothed whales but differ from other species in the toothed whale family because they have no teeth in their mouths.
3. Male narwhals have an ivory, spiralized tooth (often referred to as a “tusk”) that protrudes up to 9.8 feet (3 m) from their mouths.
4. Narwhal tusks are used to establish dominance among males in the pod.
5. Narwhals can dive more than 5,905 feet (1,800 m) deep, making them one of the deepest-diving marine mammals.
6. Narwhals live in remote Arctic waters that are frozen and void of sunlight for half the year.
7. The scientific name for narwhals, Monodon Monoceros, means “one tooth, one horn.”2
Engage Youth with Sailors for the Sea
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.
SUPPORT OUR WORK TO PROTECT THE OCEANS BY GIVING TODAY
With the support of more than 1 million activists like you, we have already protected nearly 4 million square miles of ocean.
TAKE ACTION NOW
Support policy change for the oceans
Decision-makers need to hear from ocean lovers like you. Make your voice heard!
VISIT OUR ADOPTION CENTER
SYMBOLICALLY ADOPT AN ANIMAL TODAY
Visit our online store to see all the ocean animals you can symbolically adopt, either for yourself or as a gift for someone else.
DOWNLOAD OCEAN ACTIVITIES
HELP KIDS DISCOVER OUR BLUE PLANET
Our free KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) empower children to learn about and protect our oceans!