Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Narwhals (Photo by Mario Cyr)

Narwhals (Photo by Mario Cyr)


Known to many as the ”unicorn of the sea,” narwhals are a small, pale-coloured whale with only two teeth.

What does it look like?

In most males, the right tooth remains in the skull, while the left tooth grows as a spiral tusk that can be up to three metres long. This is the most recognizable feature of the male narwhal.

Growing anywhere between five to five and a half metres in length and weighing roughly 1,500 kilograms, narwhals are closely related to the beluga whale in size and appearance. Both species make up the only two living members of the Monodontidae family.

A narwhal is darkest when born and becomes lighter with age. Narwhals have blackish-brown markings over their white skin when born, and the white patches start to develop over time. Unlike other whales, narwhals do not have a dorsal fin, and the shape of their swept-back tail flukes helps them to swim by reducing drag caused by the tusk.

Where does it live?

Lancaster Sound Announcement Map – Click to Enlarge

Narwhal range map (Map by Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
Click to Enlarge

Narwhals are common in the waters of Nunavut, west Greenland and the European Arctic but are rare in the other Arctic regions. In Canada they are found in Davis Strait, Baffin Bay and the Greenland Sea. Smaller concentrations of narwhals can be found in Hudson Strait, northern Hudson Bay and Barents Sea.

What is this species’ conservation status?

Narwhals are listed as species of special concern in Canada. Narwhal populations may be limited or threatened by hunting, environmental contaminants, climate change and industrial activities.

Narwhals have been traditionally harvested for over a thousand years by Inuit people in northern Canada and Greenland for meat and ivory. To this day, the Inuit are the only group of people allowed to hunt narwhals under regulation due to traditional practice.

What is NCC doing to protect habitat for this species?

On June 8, 2016, Shell Canada contributed more than 860,000 hectares (8,625 square kilometres) of offshore rights in the waters of Baffin Bay, near Lancaster Sound to the Nature of Conservancy of Canada. NCC helped to accelerate a marine conservation initiative of global significance by subsequently releasing the rights to the Government of Canada, to further Canada’s commitment to protecting national marine conservation areas. Lancaster Sound is home to species such as polar bears, seals, narwhals, beluga and bowhead whales.

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