The Narwhal, unicorn of the sea: a special whale species
The narwhal, unicorn of the sea is a beautiful mammal with a fabulous horn. This whale species appeals to the imagination. For a long time, no one knew exactly what this tusk is for, but researchers have been able to lift a tip of the veil. This beautiful whale species lives in the seas around the North Pole and, like many other animals that live there, is affected by the melting polar cap.
- What does the narwhal, unicorn of the sea, look like?
- The tusk of the narwhal
- Where does this whale species live?
- The family life of the narwhal
- What are the natural enemies of the narwhal?
What does the narwhal, unicorn of the sea, look like?
The narwhal is a whale species and belongs to the dolphin family. Adults have a dark back and a white belly. A newborn calf has a gray or gray-brown color with dots. As the animals get older they get a lighter color. The most characteristic feature of the narwhal is the tusk, the so-called unicorn.
The tusk of the narwhal
Not all narwhals have a tusk, usually only the males have such a beautiful horn. This tusk is a tooth that grows from the mouth. It can grow up to ten feet long. For a long time it was not known exactly what this tusk was used for. At first it was thought that it was only used to fight with other males. However, research has shown that the tusk is very sensitive because it contains millions of nerve tunnels. This allows the narwhal to perceive differences in temperature, water pressure, composition of water and air, among other things. Most likely, he can absorb a lot more information with this unique tusk and that gives him a kind of extra sense. Narwhals have been found to even fish with their tusk. In rare cases, a male has two tusks because both teeth in the mouth have grown into a tusk.
Where does this whale species live?
The narwhal lives in the area around the North Pole, especially between Canada and Greenland, around Iceland, between Norway and Russia. The narwhal is a vulnerable whale species and, like many animals, is suffering from the melting polar cap. These beautiful mammals live mainly in areas with a lot of sea ice and since that disappears visibly, they have a difficult time. These areas are not only rich in fish, but here they can also hide from their natural enemy: the killer whale. The killer whale, with its large dorsal fin, does not like to enter areas with sea ice. More than 100 years ago, a narwhal was captured in a horrific way in the Netherlands.
The family life of the narwhal
Narwhals, like all whale species, are mammals. They mate in the spring, between March and May. A female carries the calf for 15 months. She usually only gives birth to one calf in July or August. Occasionally she gives birth to twins. She nurses the calf for a long time, at least one year but often even two years. The narwhals usually live in groups of 2 to 20 animals. These can be groups of only females with young, only young adult males or groups of adult males. However, during migration or foraging, groups can grow into many hundreds of animals. Often belugas (also a whale species) are also part of such a large group of traveling narwhals. The narwhal is about 30 to 55 years old. In 2017, WWF estimated that there are about 100,000 narwhals left.
What are the natural enemies of the narwhal?
As mentioned above, orcas are a natural enemy of the narwhal. The polar bear, the Greenland shark and sometimes even a walrus like to hunt the narwhal. But the biggest threat comes from humans due to environmental damage and the hunting of these beautiful animals. The tusk was and still is a sought-after object with a mythical meaning. It used to be thought that the tusk had special medicinal powers to neutralize poison, for example. Hopefully, by protecting the environment, the tide can be turned and the narwhal can adapt in the meantime to survive.