Are Narwhals Real? Fun Facts About the Unicorn of the Sea
If you have ever seen a picture of one, you probably have asked yourself, are narwhals real? These toothed whales are not as common as other species, spending all their time in the Arctic Circle, even when other whales migrate to warmer waters for feeding or mating. Perhaps it is their private, reclusive nature that makes narwhals so fascinating. Here are fun facts about narwhals that can clear up any questions you may have about their existence.
Brian Henderson via Flickr
Are Narwhals Real? 8 Facts To Prove It
Now that you realize your chances of seeing a narwhal in the wild are pretty slim, let's look at what lucky researchers say about these majestic marine mammals.
What's With the Tusk?
It's no wonder that seafaring sorts looked at narwhals as some mythical creature, like a unicorn of the sea. The protruding "horn" (which can grow 8-10 feet long) has been somewhat mysterious. It's long been speculated to be used as an environmental sensor or for hunting, but recent research has concluded it has to do with sex. Like an Elk's elaborate antlers, the narwhal tusk is a simple way of saying, "Hey, I'm bigger than you.."
Does Every Narwhal Have One?
Get ready to be shocked; some narwhals have not one but two spiraled tusks, although seeing a two-tusked narwhal is rare. In some ways, they may seem just as similar to a walrus as they do a whale! According to research, one in 500 narwhals has two tusks, while scientists have only observed one two-tusked female.
What Does Gender Have To Do With the Tusks?
Nature plays some interesting games when it comes to gender differences. Just as some male birds are showier than their female counterparts (we are looking at you, peacocks), so are narwhals. Only 15% of female narwhals have a spiral tusk, mostly leaving this characteristic to males.
Are Narwhals Like Other Whales?
The narwhal's closest relative is the snowy-white beluga whale, the only other cetacean species that live exclusively in the Arctic Circle. Belonging to the Monodontidae family, both belugas and narwhals stick to the icy waters of Greenland, Russia, Norway, and Canada. They spend almost five months of the year under the sea ice, finding small cracks where they can surface for air.
Do Narwhals Hunt With Their Tusks?
We hate to break it to you, but narwhals do not spear their prey with their toothy tusk. They feed primarily on shrimp, cod, halibut, herring, and squid, sucking food up like a vacuum. Scientists say some narwhals may use their tusks to stun fish before swallowing them, more like hitting them with a stick than harpooning them.
Where Does the Name Narwhal Come From?
The origin of the word narwhal seems to be Icelandic. The ending, -whal, is whale, while the beginning, nar-, means corpse. I bet you thought it meant something different, didn't you? So, why corpse whale? The coloration of a narwhal is a pale or white belly, with its back looking mottled in gray and black. If you imagine what a dead body would look like in the cold waters of Iceland, you can probably understand the name's origin a bit better. These whales tend to get paler as they age, so they can look gray or white when they reach their life expectancy of up to 50 years!
Why Don't Narwals Have Dorsal Fins?
Narwhals aren't the only whales who lack this back fin; belugas also have a smooth back. Narwhals can retain body heat better and swim easier under ice sheets without this fin. Since they spend up to five months under ice, they need to prevent heat loss in any way they can!
Do Narwhals Use Their Tusks for Fighting?
Perhaps you have seen photos of a group of narwhals with their spiraled tusks in the air. While it may look like they are dueling, they are more likely to communicate with each other rather than display aggressive behavior. Think of the tusk more as a navigation tool than as a weapon.
Why Aren't There Any Narwhals in Captivity?
While some aquariums have belugas that they study, narwhals have never lived outside of the wild. Some attempts to keep narwhals captive took place in the 1960s and 1970s, but these poor creatures did not survive for long.
National History Museum
Are Narwhals Real? Only if We Protect Them
Narwhals continue to amaze and fascinate us, but without efforts to protect them, they may become mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons. Their official status is "near threatened," which means their population totals over 100,000, the majority of which live in Baffin Bay off the coast of Greenland.
However, without conservation efforts to combat climate change, narwhals may be at risk of extinction. As the water temperatures increase and overfishing of their primary food sources continues, narwhals may find themselves without an adequate food supply or habitat to sustain their numbers.
Other environmental concerns that could impact the survival of narwhals include:
- Pollution – Researchers have detected plastics and microparticles in ocean mammals, and narwhals are not immune to such factors
- Oil and Gas Development – The potential for oil spills and other adverse impacts can increase as more industry giants explore the untapped natural resources of the Arctic.
- Commercial Shipping – With less ice blocking the way, commercial ships may no longer avoid this watery region, which in turn can harm the narwhals' habitat
- Ocean Noise – Like other whales, narwhals rely on echolocation to navigate and communicate. Ocean noise from shipping or oil production interferes with marine mammals' abilities to interpret sounds.
Doing Your Part To Make Sure Narwhals Stay Real
BeCauseTees, like you, wants this world to retain its majesty and diversity, and we know it takes all of us to prevent permanent harm to the natural wonders surrounding us. Are narwhals real? We want to keep them that way, so we create thoughtful apparel that shares your passion and values.
Shop our assortment of hand-drawn t-shirt designs, and we will donate 10% of every sale to environmental and humanitarian causes. Learn more about our story to see how we can do our part to protect our planet.
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