Our whale of the month for September is the Narwhal! The Narwhal is the 5th whale you will encounter in the exhibition.
Narwhals typically have a mottled pattern, with blackish and brown markings on top of white skin. They do not have a dorsal fin, which allows them to swim under ice easily. Adult males average 4.6 meters (15 feet) and weigh around 3,500 lbs. Adult females average 4 meters (13 feet) and weigh around 2,000 lbs.
Narwhals, along with most toothed whales, use echolocation to communicate and hunt. They are also excellent deep divers, with recorded dives of depths reaching 800 meters (over 2,600 feet)! Their primary food sources are halibut, cod, cuttlefish and shrimp. Calves stay close to their mothers for at least a year, and narwhals often travel in groups of 20-30. Their average life expectancy is estimated to be around 50 years. They are most famous for their ivory tusk, which for centuries caused people to believe in the existence of unicorns.
Their tusk grows out from the mouth and into a spiral. The tusk has millions of nerve endings and even pores, which helps them sense the environment around them. The tusk is typically found in males, but around 15% of females are estimated to have one. A tusk can grow up to 2.7 meters (9 feet) and weigh up to 10 kg (22 lbs). Individuals can have one, two or no tusks.
The exact purpose of the tusk is still somewhat of a mystery. Some have speculated that it is used for fighting, mating, echolocation, breaking ice, or for hunting, though the tusk likely serves more than one purpose. Video footage from WWF Arctic Programme in 2017 has shown narwhals using their tusks to hunt fish. They use their tusks to hit the fish, temporarily stunning them and allowing the narwhal to catch and eat them. The tusk is the only tooth that a narwhal has – there are no other teeth inside the mouth, meaning they must swallow fish whole!
Major predators of narwhals include polar bears and orcas. Historically, narwhals have been hunted by humans for their tusks, skin, and meat. Certain Inuit tribes still hunt narwhals legally, but commercial whaling of the narwhal has significantly decreased. Another danger to narwhals can be sea ice. Narwhals can suffocate beneath the ice if they are not able to break through, and they are more vulnerable to attack as they try to escape from beneath the ice.
Narwhal sightings in Iceland are rare, though they do occasionally occur in the far north.