Like the walrus and elephant, this arctic whale has a majestic quality to it because of its regal-looking tusk. In medieval times, its tusk was often presented to important people as a unicorn’s horn. Here are eight more fun facts about this beautiful whale.
1. Its closest living relative is the beluga, but unlike belugas, narwhals (or narwhales) possess a tusk that is actually a tooth. It is a front left tooth that protrudes from the upper lip. The right front tooth is small, and usually remains in the mouth.
2. The tusk, which grows throughout the narwhal’s life, can reach 10 feet long (regulation basketball hoops are 10 feet tall). As it grows, it spirals to the left.
3. The tusk can bend about 12 inches before breaking. Its structure is opposite of a human tooth — it has a tough core and soft outer layer.
4. There are no narwhals in captivity, though it has been tried. Luckily for narwhals, they fare poorly in captivity so people no longer capture them for this purpose. Belugas should be so lucky :(
5. Narwhals live year-round in the Arctic waters around Greenland, Canada and Russia. It is one of two living species of whale in the Monodontidae family, along with the beluga whale.
6. In winter, it feeds on deepwater prey, mostly flatfish, under dense pack ice. During the summer, narwhals prefer to eat Arctic cod and Greenland halibut. Each summer, they migrate from bays into the ocean.
7. During winter, narwhals make some of the deepest dives recorded for a marine mammal, diving to at least 2,600 feet over 15 times per day, with many dives reaching 4,900 feet. They are not the deepest-diving whales — that distinction belongs to Cuvier’s beaked whales, which have plunged to nearly 10,000 feet.
8. In one legend from the Inuit — the indigenous people from Alaska, Canada and Greenland — the narwhal's tusk was created after a woman harpooned a large narwhal. The animal was able to drag her into the ocean by snatching the harpoon rope tied around her waist. She was transformed into a narwhal, and her hair, which she was wearing in a twisted knot, became the narwhal tusk.