Unicorn Whale - Narwhal

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The narwhal is called "the unicorn of the sea" or "the unicorn whale".

It is a pale colored porpoise found in Arctic coastal waters and rivers. In males two teeth can become a spiral-shaped tusk. The ivory tusk grows through the narwhal's upper lip, making it look like a unicorn.

A unicorn swims next to a narwhal drawing

 

Discover the unicorn whale or narwhal

Scientists are not sure what the purpose of the to the defense, but some believe that this plays an important role in mating rituals and can be used to impress females or to fight rival males. Females (around 15%) sometimes develop a small tusk. However, it does not become as large as that of the male.
Narwhals are related to other porpoises such as bottlenose dolphins, belugas, harbor porpoises, and orcas. Like some porpoises, they travel in groups and feed on fish, shrimp, squid and other aquatic foods. They are often seen swimming in groups of 15-20. However, gatherings of hundreds or even thousands of narwhals have been reported.

Like beluga whales, narwhals are whales of average height. For both sexes (except male tusk), total body size can vary from 13,0 to 18,0 feet (3,95 to 5,5 meters). Males are slightly larger than females. The average weight of an adult narwhal is 1 to 800 pounds (3 to 500 kilograms). Around the age of 800 to 1, males become sexually mature. However, females become sexually mature at around 600 to 11 years of age. Narwhals do not have a dorsal fin and their cervical vertebrae are articulated like those of other mammals, they are not fused together like in dolphins and most whales.

 

shiny narwhal unicorn plush

What does the Narwhal eat?

Narwhals have a fairly restricted and specialized diet. Their prey is mainly composed of Greenland halibut, polar / arctic cod, cuttlefish, shrimp and squid. However, other objects found in the stomach of the narwhal were sea bass, capelin, skate eggs, and even rocks. Narwhals are believed to feed by swimming towards their prey until they are nearby, then sucking them with considerable force into their mouths.


A study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology tested 73 narwhals of different ages and sexes to see what they ate. The 1978 study found that arctic cod made up about 51% of the diet of narwhals, with Greenland halibut being the second most commonly used animal (accounting for 37% of their diet weight). Deep-sea fish like halibut, rockfish, and polar cod have also been found in the diet of males. This means that narwhals can dive more than 500 feet below sea level. The study also found that the narwhal's food needs did not change depending on gender or age.

Narwhal in the water 

 

Narwhal tusks

The most important characteristic of the male narwhal is a long tusk, which is in fact a canine which protrudes from the left side of the upper jaw, through the lip and forms a helical spiral left. Their tusks grow throughout their life, reaching lengths of around 1,5 to 3,1 m (4 ft 11 in to 10 ft 2 in). The tusk is actually hollow and weighs around 10kg.
Some males (about one in 500) have two tusks. This happens when the right canine also grows through the lip. Females also sometimes cultivate tusks. However, only about 15% of women have a tusk and their tusks are smaller than those of men and also have a much less noticeable spiral.

Defense is actually a sensory organ and has millions of nerve endings connecting seawater stimuli in the ocean environment to the brain. New studies also suggest that defense plays a role in “mate choice” and is used as a mechanism for sexual selection in addition to the previously understood “male rivalry”. Narwhals have rarely been seen when using tusk for aggressive behavior.

 Unicorn whale zoom on the tooth horn tusk

 

Where do narwhals live?

Narwhals are mainly found in atlantic regions et Russian Arctic Ocean. They are commonly found in the northern part of Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait and Baffin Bay; off the east coast of Greenland; and in a strip running east from the northern end of Greenland to eastern Russia. However, most of the world's narwhals are concentrated in the fjords and inlets of north sea of ​​canada and west Greenland.


Are narwhals endangered?

According to the World Wildlife Federation, narwhals are listed as "near threatened".

The natural predators of narwhals are polar bears and orcas. In addition, Aboriginal Inuit are also allowed to hunt this whale legally.

As human demand for narwhal tusks and meat has declined in modern times, the narwhal faces other threats, such as its habitat, climate change, and increased sea traffic.

The habitat of the narwhal is threatened by both pollution and climate change. Other factors, including their small population size, limited range, and reliance on arctic fish (which are also affected by available climate-induced dietary changes), make them extremely vulnerable. A recent study concluded that the narwhal may be even more sensitive to the impacts of climate change than the polar bear.

Another threat is the development of oil and gas. This increased development means more transport vessels, which creates more possibilities for collisions and more underwater noise that can interfere with communication between whales.

Current population estimates in the Northwest Atlantic region are around 50 people. However, global estimates are not available. There are still over 000 narwhals killed each year between Canada and Greenland. These figures are apparently above a sustainable level.  

 Narwhal unicorn whale soft toys

The myth of the narwhal and the unicorn

The defense of narwhals has been valued by humans for many years. It is often said that he is at the origin of unicorn myth. To Middle Ages, the defense was used to treat epilepsy, strengthen the heart, induce sweating and also dab the poison. Narwhal tusk was also one of Queen Elizabeth I's most treasured possessions. Narwhals are also important to many Eskimo cultures. The meat is used for sled dogs and the skin is an important source of vitamin C. It is a rubbery delicacy called "muktuk".

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