Narwhals are often called the unicorns of the sea. The long tusk of the male narwhal sets these whales apart, but it’s not the only thing that makes Monodon monoceros among the most intriguing and mysterious marine mammals.
A deep-diving cetacean in the odontocete family (which means “toothed whales”), narwhals live in cold Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. They’re highly adapted to living in areas almost completely covered with sea ice. Narwhals are among the only whales that live in areas with such dense sea ice cover for up to six months each winter.
As a scientist who studies animal ecology in the Arctic, I know firsthand that seeing a narwhal in the wild is a special experience. They usually travel in pods and can be quite sneaky. When they pass by, you may only see a small sliver of their mottled black and white skin above the water when they surface to breathe. No wonder glimpses of these whales and their unique tusks have fueled myths for centuries. MORE
Header image: Over 100,000 narwhals swim the Earth’s Arctic waters. Credit: Kristin Laidre, CC BY-ND.