Common Name: Narwhal
Narwhal's belong to the Mammalian Order Cetacea, in the suborder
Odontoceti. All toothed whales belong to the suborder Odontoceti,
which is Latin for "toothed whales". The narwhal belongs to the
white whale family, Monodontidae. The other member of this family
is the beluga. The narwhal's scientific name is Monodon
monoceros, which means "one tooth, one horn". The word
'narwhal' is derived from Old Norse, meaning corpse-whale, which
refers to the whale's pallid coloration.
narwhal has two teeth, both of which are nonfunctional. The large,
prominent tusk of the narwhal, is actually its left tooth. This
tusk protrudes from the left side of the animal's mouth, at a
downward angle. As the only whale species with such a feature, the
narwhal is easy to identify. Only male narwhal have the protruding
tusk. Narwhal do not have dorsal fins. They do however, have a
dorsal ridge, which is an uneven ridge on their lower back. Absence
of a dorsal fin allows the narwhal to freely swim beneath ice
flows. Adult males reach sizes of 15 ft in length and 3,500 lbs in
weight. Adult females are smaller, reaching 13 ft in length and
weighing 2,000 lbs.
Narwhal inhabit the frigid, waters off the arctic circle. They are
one of three cetacean species to live entirely in the arctic seas,
the bowhead whale and beluga being the remaining two. The deep,
cold inlets of the north provide narwhal with a fine source of
arctic cod, pelagic shrimp, squid, and flatfish. The narwhal's
large tusk was once thought to aid in predation, stirring up
sediments of the ocean floor to flush out prey. This theory has
since been dismissed because female narwhal have similar diets to
males, and females do not have the protruding tusk.
research suggests the narwhal's tusk is used for mating practices.
Narwhal males have been witnessed using their tusks to 'joust' for
control of females. Such a seen would include two males at the
surface with their tusks crossed in a fashion similar to a
swordfight. Some whales are heavily scarred from these
competitions, with one whale even having a portion of tusk embedded
in its skull.
winner has been established, breeding with the desired female
ensues. Gestation lasts 15 months. A single calf is born, weighing
180 lbs at a length of five feet. The calf will remain with its
mother for 20 months. Males reach sexual maturity 8-9 years of age,
while females mature sexually at 4-7 years of age.
The north Atlantic
population of narwhal is estimated at 50,000 animals. There is no
worldwide estimate. Over 1,000 narwhal are killed each year between
the nations of Canada and Greenland. Offshore oil and mineral
drilling also threaten the narwhal's habitat, as well as water
pollution and overfishing. Some Inuit tribes have permission to
hunt narwhal. The meat is used primarily to feed sled dogs, but the
skin is a good source of Vitamin C. The skin is a very chewy
delicacy, called 'muktuk'.