Narwhals or Narwhales are considered the unicorn of the sea. These toothed whales are best known for their large protruding canine tooth or tusk that makes these whales unique from all other sea mammals. In most cases, it is only the left tusk that grows but on rare occasions, narwhals with two long tusks have been found.
These whales belong to the Monodontidae family and are found living in cold waters around the Arctic, Greenland, Canada, and Russia. Excluding their gigantic tusks, a male narwhal can grow up to 5.5meters long and can weigh up to 1,600kg. They can also live up to 50 years but will only reach maturity at 5 – 13 years of age.
Males, females, young and old narwhals all have the same basic dietary needs. The food sources these mammals focus on are quite basic and only include a few sea species. These fascinating carnivores enjoy eating the following foods;
51 – 57% of narwhal’s diet consists of polar and arctic cod. This fish species can grow up to 40cm in length and lives further north than any other fish species. They can survive extremely cold temperatures because of natural antifreeze protein compounds in their blood and they are very comfortable diving down well over 900 meters below sea level.
Their ability to survive in these habitats is what makes this fish specie such an appealing food source to narwhals.
29 – 37% of the narwhal whale’s diet consists of Greenland halibut. This fish species lives at depths of 500 – 1000 meters below sea level.
They are rather strange looking with their flat bodies and are also called flatfish.
Deepwater redfish are also called beaked redfish, ocean perch, Atlantic Redfish, or Norway haddock.
This fish species can reach a length of up to 70cm and they also live over 500 meters below sea level. This fish is easily identified by its bright red color.
Narwhals also eat cuttlefish or cuttles. This squid-like creature can reach up to 50cm in length and they can weigh up to 10.5kg.
Cuttlefish are considered to be extremely intelligent because of their larger brain-to-body size.
As with most other whale species, narwhals will also eat shrimp. Most of the food they catch is sucked into their mouths and shrimp is a very easy meal to catch this way because they are so small and swim in such huge swarms.
Armhook squid is another tasty snack for narwhals since this squid is also found living in the cold regions that narwhals call home. This squid specie is quite small with males reaching a maximum length of up to 20cm long.
Narwhals may eat additional fish species and foods such as wolfish, capelin, skate eggs, and other squid species. These foods are however not their main food source. Researchers who studied these wails also found rocks in the stomachs of some of these whales but it is believed that these whales accidentally consumed these rocks while hunting.
Narwhals love to travel in packs. Like orca and other whales, they can sometimes use their numbers to catch their prey. It is recently discovered that this whale can also use their tusks to hit prey on the head to stun them so they can easily suck them into their mouths.
Narwhals are quite large and they do need to eat quite a lot of food to stay nourished. An average adult narwhal will eat about 30kg of food per day. They hunt in packs and it is believed that this whale will quietly sneak up on its prey before quickly sucking it into its mouth.
Narwhals can only have one baby at a time. A baby narwhal is called a calf and they need to stay with their mothers so they can nurse for over a year. Calves will learn hunting skills from their mothers and will be fully weaned by the time they are a year old at which point they will hunt for their own food.
Most people believe that their long tusks are used to stab foods. But scientists now believe that this tusk is a sensory organ that narwhals use to detect changes in the environment.
It is mostly male narwhals that will grow tusks. Only about 15% of females also have tusks.
It is believed that these whales can sense the salt content of water which helps them find food or to identify when the ice will freeze so they can get out of a region before they become trapped.
Narwhals do also use their tusks for hunting. They can use their tusks to hit the upper side of a fish head which makes it easier to catch their food. Scars on their bodies do however suggest that males often use their tusks for jousting.
These whales have quite a few predators. Orcas, polar bears, and people are their most common predators.
It is legal for some cultures to hunt narwhal for food but it is illegal for these cultures to export these foods to protect the species. Humans hunt these beautiful animals for their meat, blubber, and the ivory in their tusks.
Polar bears mostly hunt young narwhals by waiting for them at breathing holes in the ice.
Orcas, on the other hand, can hunt these smaller whales by working together as a team.
Narwhals will always prefer to flee rather than attack humans. They are not known to be aggressive. The only time a narwhal might show aggression towards humans might be in extreme cases where they are not treated well while in captivity.
Narwhals are some of the most majestic animals found in the deep oceans. They are peaceful creatures that deserve all the respect and protection they can get. It would be a terrible shame if these endangered animals became extinct.