Photo: A pod of narwhals

A newborn narwhal calf is about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and can weigh 175 to 220 pounds (79 to 100 kilograms). Narwhals are normally found in pods of two to ten.

Photograph by Paul Nicklen

Map

Map: Narwhal range

Narwhal Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Carnivore
Size:
13 to 20 ft (4 to 6.1 m)
Weight:
3,500 lbs (1,600 kg)
Size relative to a bus:
Illustration: Narwhal compared with bus

The narwhal is the unicorn of the sea, a pale-colored porpoise found in Arctic coastal waters and rivers. These legendary animals have two teeth. In males, the more prominent tooth grows into a swordlike, spiral tusk up to 8.8 feet (2.7 meters) long. The ivory tusk tooth grows right through the narwhal's upper lip. Scientists are not certain of the tusk's purpose, but some believe it is prominent in mating rituals, perhaps used to impress females or to battle rival suitors. Females sometimes grow a small tusk of their own, but it does not become as prominent as the male's.

Narwhals are related to bottlenose dolphins, belugas, harbor porpoises, and orcas. Like some other porpoises, they travel in groups and feed on fish, shrimp, squid, and other aquatic fare. They are often sighted swimming in groups of 15 to 20, but gatherings of hundreds—or even several thousand—narwhals have been reported. Sometimes these groups become trapped by shifting pack ice and fall victim to Inuit hunters, polar bears, or walruses.

Inuit people hunt the narwhal for their long tusks and their skin, an important source of vitamin C in the traditional Arctic diet.

Mammal Features

  • Photo: Close-up of an African lion

    Animal Conservation

    Find out what National Geographic Society is doing to save animals all over the world, and learn what you can do to help.

  • hawaiian-monk-critter-cam.jpg

    Crittercam Helps Study Rare Species

    The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the oldest species of seal on the planet. But their tenure in paradise is perilously close to its end; only about 1,100 seals remain in the wild.

  • Masai Mara Lion

    Lions Quiz

    The king of cats rules with a roar and a fierce bite. What else do you know about this top predator?

  • Photo: Lion bares his teeth

    Cause an Uproar

    Big cats are quickly disappearing. Now is the time to act. Cause an uproar to save big cats today.

Animals

Photos

  •  Picture of a Malayan tiger

    Pictures: Tiger Subspecies

    Scientists estimate only about 3,000 wild tigers are left in the entire world. Meet the subspecies and see what threats each is facing.

See more animal photos »

From the Magazine

  • Photo of the lions of the Vumbi pride.

    The Surprising Lives of Lions

    In case you missed it: See these breathtaking videos and photos from inside a wild Serengeti pride.

  • Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.