Wildlife
© Paul Nicklen / National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada
Narwhal

The narwhal is famous for the long ivory tusk which spirals counter-clockwise several feet forward from its upper lip. The tusk is actually the whale's upper left canine tooth. Male narwhals commonly have a single tusk, but they sometimes have two tusks, or none at all. Around 15% of females have a tusk.

Narwhal facts

  • scientific name
    Monodon monoceros
  • adult weight
    males up to 1900 kg; females up to 1550 kg
  • adult length
    males up to 5.4 m; females up to 4.9 m, plus tusk up to 3 m
  • population
    > 170,000 worldwide
  • status
    Least Concern (IUCN)
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Tracking narwhals from space

Satellite tags allow us to follow the movements of narwhal as they go about their annual feeding and reproductive routines, in order to better understand these unique creatures.

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What is a narwhal's tusk for?

For centuries now, people have puzzled over the narwhal's unicorn-like tusk, and just what purpose it serves.

Sensing

The work of Dr. Martin Nweeia and science and Inuit colleagues involved with the Narwhal Tusk Research project has unearthed evidence that the tusk has sensory capabilities.

Stunning

Using drone photography, filmmaker Adam Ravetch captured a surprising behaviour for the first time. In this amazing video, a male narwhal appears to use his tusk to hit and stun fish.

Threats to narwhals

Thousands of years of evolution have prepared Arctic species like the polar bear, walrus and narwhal for life on and around the sea ice. Because of climate change, that ice cover has been changing rapidly, in both extent and thickness, and shrinking far too quickly for these species to adapt. A narwhal’s entire life is connected to sea ice, both as a place to feed and a place to take refuge. Slow swimming whales rely on sea ice as a place to hide from predators like killer whales.
Vessels that support oil and gas development mean increased shipping in sensitive areas. Increased shipping means more noise that can mask communications for many Arctic marine species and it increases the potential for collisions with marine mammals, especially whales. It also brings more pollution and a greater possibility of oil or fuel spills.
Shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction and military activities cause underwater noise pollution. Since whales depend on sound to communicate, any interference by noise pollution can negatively affect their ability to find food and mates, navigate, avoid predators and take care of their young.

How we work

Publications

Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
17 September 2018
The Circle 03.18
The Circle 03.18
17 July 2018
Greenland Mariners' Guide
Greenland Mariners' Guide
27 September 2017
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
25 May 2017
Health effects in Arctic wildlife linked to chemical exposures
Health effects in Arctic wildlife linked to chemical exposures
1 June 2016
Breaking the Ice: International Trade of Narwhals
Breaking the Ice: International Trade of Narwhals
13 March 2015

Meet the team

Tom Arnbom

Tom Arnbom

WWF-Sweden

Senior Advisor, Arctic and marine

Kaare Winther Hansen

Kaare Winther Hansen

WWF-Denmark

Project Coordinator

Brandon Laforest

Brandon Laforest

WWF-Canada

Senior specialist, Arctic species & ecosystems

Melanie Lancaster

Melanie Lancaster

WWF Arctic Coordinating Team

Senior Specialist, Arctic species

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