February 24th, 2011
The other day we were discussing the elusive Narwhal in class. I used to think this creature was ‘mythical’ too until I saw a silly cartoon about them online and became more interested in the funny looking creature. After our class discussion I decided it would be interesting to learn more about the threatened Narwhal.
The Narwhal lives in the Arctic all year, with the highest population concentrated around the Canadian/Greenland areas. The Narwhal has only three main predators, the Orca, Polar Bears and of course humans. Inuits hunt the Narwhal and have incorporated it into local legend. They travel in pods of 10-100, making them quite social creatures.
These whales are 13-16 feet long and can live to be 50 years old. They are generally slow moving unless chased by a predator. The Narwhal is sometimes referred to as the ‘sea unicorn’ because of its prominent 7-10 ft. spiral tusk. Male Narwhals have much larger tusks than females. Occasionally, a Narwhal will grow double tusks. It is uncertain exactly what purpose the tusk serves, but is probably a secondary sexual characteristic, similar to a peacock’s feathers. The tusk is actually a tooth that grows from the upper jaw. Narwhals gives birth to one calf at a time after a lengthy 16 month gestation period. So obviously, their population is quite slow growing. They love to eat cod, but also dine on squid, shrimp, and other types of fish.
The Narwhal is listed as Near Threatened and it is illegal for humans to poach these whales. The Inuit are an exception to this ban and are still allowed to hunt the animal, as it is an important nutrient source in their diet. However, Climate Change is going to be the biggest threat to Narwhal populations. The current populated is estimated around 50,000-75,000 individuals.
“Their habitual nature, small numbers, and limited range and diet make them extremely sensitive to climate change, says a study in Ecological Applications. Global warming is already affecting the sea ice narwhals are adapted to, and will likely increase their exposure to such events as ice entrapments—phenomena caused by sudden weather changes that quickly seal cracks in dense ice, which can suffocate cetaceans. A warming ocean could have an even bigger impact on narwhals by disrupting their finely tuned ecosystems and, thus, their food source.” – WWF
The Narwhal is certainly a unique creature and it would be very unfortunate to lose this species due to climate change. If the Narwhal’s habitat continues to deteriorate, do you think the Inuit should still be allowed to hunt these whales?
Narwhal Video!! – NarwhalsNatGeo
Narwhal facts and information: