Monodon monoceros


Size: max 3.7-5m

Key features:
- Only found in the high arctic
- Long tusk on the male
- Mottled skin
- No dorsal fin

Narwhals are distinguishable by their 2-3m long tusk that is seen on males. Until the 17th century the tusk was believed to be the horn of a unicorn but it is in fact a modified canine tooth. It is believed to be used like an antler, a sign of strength. As narwhals get older they change colour; they are born blotchy grey or brown and then as they get older they turn dark grey-black before becoming mottled and getting whiter with age.


Often shy animals, can be seen in pods of 1-25 individuals but also travel in their hundreds or thousands during annual migrations or when feeding. When they are migrating they swim fast and stay close to the surface, when they are hunting they mill around and move very slowly.


The narwhal lives further north than most other cetaceans. They winter in deep water under ice around Greenland and spend the summer in ice-free bays, fjords and island passages closer to shore. Natural predators of the narwhal include polar bears, killer whales and some sharks.


Narwhals have been hunted for centuries for their ivory tusks, skin and blubber. Still today the Inuit people of Canada and Greenland hunt the narwhals for their skin which traditionally is eaten raw with a thin layer of fat. Other threats to narwhals include human disturbance and chemical pollution. This species is also threatened by climate change as they are a species that live in and around pack ice which is decreasing due to warming waters and climate.


ORCA has not recorded any sightings of this species yet.
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