Narwhals are mysterious arctic creatures. Not so mysterious for the unicorn fans who know them well ! That's why we see more and more objects appearing in their effigy.
However, many people have only ever seen them on television or have never heard of them. Narwhals are commonly known as "horned whales" or "sea unicorns". But why ? Where does this nickname come from ? That's what we're going to explore 😊 !
1) History of Narwhals
Narwhals, often called sea unicorns, are highly coveted creatures. They have this nickname because of the horn they wear on their head. According to National Geographic, narwhals were discovered in 1577, when sailors found a narwhal in the ice and described it as a "sea unicorn".
Martin Frobisher, the man who led the expedition, brought the horn to Queen Elizabeth who kept it with the crown jewels. From there the narwhal horns were labelled as "unicorn horns" and sold at high prices throughout England. The greatest elite had their cups and scepters made of unicorn horns. As European naturalists became more aware of the existence of narwhals, rumours of the existence of "sea unicorns" faded but the nickname remained.
2) The Narwhal : a Sea Mammal with Horn
A) What is a Narwhal ?
Narwhals are classified as porpoises. They are closely related to whales, especially beluga whales.
B) Where do Narwhals live ?
Often found in the Arctic waters of Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway, these animals thrive in cold temperatures and icy terrain. In this habitat, they can dive to a depth of one kilometre in the water and use the cracks in the ice to surface.
C) What does the Narwhal eat ?
The narwhal's diet consists mainly of small marine animals, such as Arctic cod, shrimp and squid. They eat near icy shores and ice-free summer waters.
D) How long does a Narwhal live ?
The average life expectancy of a narwhal is around 30 years. Some of them can reach the age of 60.
E) Colour of Narwhals
Narwhal babies are blue-grey in colour and change colour as they grow older. In adolescence, they turn grey-black. Adults are mottled grey, and old narwhals are almost all white.
F) Behaviour of the Narwhal
Narwhals move in groups of 15 to 20 individuals, but they have been seen in hundreds, if not thousands 😲.
G) Narwhal speed
It is estimated that the narwhal has a maximum speed of 4 knots (about 7.4 km/h) when swimming.
H) Number of Narwhals in the World
There are more than 80,000 narwhals alive today and they can reach a length of 17 feet (about 5.2 metres). The World Wildlife Fund reports that it monitors narwhal populations by satellite. They can observe their feeding and mating habits to continue to learn more about the species.
I) What is a Dent de Narval ?
The narwhal's horn (or narwhal's tusk) is actually a tooth with sensory abilities, which protrudes from their upper lip. Some narwhals have two teeth, while others have none. As with unicorns, they have a spiral shape 😊 !
J) Length of the Horn of Narwhal
The narwhal's horn can be up to 2.4 metres long. Females have one while males have two. In addition to its sensory abilities, it could be used for mating rituals or to fight rivals 👊 ! Females' tusks are not as large as those of males.
K) What is the Tooth of the Narwhal used for ?
Scientists have discovered that the narwhal's tooth is a sensory organ. Although the main purpose is unknown, studies have shown how the narwhal's heart rate changes depending on the salt in the water. There are more than 10 million nerve endings in the tooth. These nerve endings could eventually help locate food.
3) The Narwhal : a Threatened Species ?
Narwhals face many threats, such as the exploitation of gas and oil in their habitat. This will change the way they move. Global warming is another threat, melting their icy habitat. The melting of the ice caps will change the way narwhals hunt their prey and where they go.
More development means more ships, which interferes with narwhal communication and causes more injuries in collisions. The Inuit tribes have taken the habit of hunting narwhals for their horns and meat. These tribes are legally allowed to hunt narwhals for subsistence, cultural and economic reasons. Narwhals are a protected species from all other hunters outside Inuit communities. In fact, they are a quasi-protected species, so rest assured : narwhals are not endangered !
Unfortunately, some of them get stuck in the melting ice caps because of global warming. When this happens, they can be easy prey for hunters. Narwhals are predated by polar bears or walruses. Orcas have also begun to hunt narwhals because of the melting ice. Killer whales can reach Narwhals because the space between the ice caps is large enough for them to swim through. The melting of the ice caps also affects the marine life that the Narwhals eat, which will also affect their numbers.
4) Inuit and the Narwhal Hunt
The Inuit live in the Arctic landscape with the Narwhals. They use kayaks and harpoons to hunt narwhals for food, economic and cultural purposes. But they also help scientific organisations to learn more about sea unicorns !
Because of the complex relationship between narwhals and Inuit culture, many tribes are familiar with the behaviour and anatomy of narwhals. Inuit communities have also provided information about narwhals : in particular how global warming is affecting the Arctic ecosystem.
Narwhal behaviour has become less predictable due to the melting of the ice caps and changes in the way they hunt and migrate. This has also affected Inuit communities, which find it more difficult to hunt them.
5) Unicorn and Narwhal : Bound by their Horn
The precious horn of the narwhals is the main link with the unicorns. Indeed, unicorn horns are commonly associated with water because of their purifying capacity. Horn and water are also the main links with Narwhals. Unicorn horns are also said to cure poisons and diseases. When Narwhals were hunted for their horns and sold as unicorn horns, many people bought them to cure various illnesses. These rumours were believed to be true when a "placebo" effect occurred in those who believed that the horn would help to cure their illness 😲 !
In short, Narwhals are interesting, mysterious animals that are rarely seen. If you don't make trips to the Arctic. These features will probably remind you of our friends the unicorns, which helped to give them their surname - unicorn-horned whales. Advances in technology and research will likely provide more information about these creatures. Perhaps there will be more similarities between the two in the future 😊.
If you love narwhals as much as you love unicorns, you probably want to know How to Draw a Narwhal !