In the frigid waters of the Arctic, there is a creature that is as unique as it is fascinating—the narwhals.
These creatures are rarely seen by humans, but they are known for their long tusks, which can grow up to 10 feet in length.
Looking at such a unique creature, many have likely asked themselves what do narwhals eat?
This question has been asked by scientists for years, and although there is still much to learn about their diet, we have some idea of what these animals consume.
Narwhals are very intriguing animals, and just by looking at them, you can tell they were the inspiration for the mythical unicorn.
They are just as mysterious as they are unique, and there are endless wonders to learn about these amazing whales.
They are one of the many types of whale species that have experienced a decline in their populations over the years.
Learning about narwhals will not only further your appreciation for them but also educate you on how animals like them can be saved.
What are Narwhals?
Narwhals are a type of toothed whale, also called odontocetes.
They are dubbed the unicorn of the sea, because of their large tusks.
They are one of the few whales to live in arctic waters year-round.
Bowheads and beluga whales are the only other whales that also do so.
Other whales may visit arctic regions during their migration for food but are only visitors.
The beluga whale is the narwhal’s closest relative, and both are members of the Monodontidae family.
Narwhals are medium-sized whales, typically growing to reach around 17 ft. in length without their horn.
On average they weigh between 2,100 to 4,000 lbs.
The tusk of the narwhal grows to be about 10 ft, and typically only males have this feature.
Males are capable of growing one to two horns, but only 15% of females are capable of growing one.
The majestic horn of the narwhal has a dentine core and is covered with a hard outlier of a cement-like substance.
There are tons of mysteries about the narwhal.
These majestic whales are increasingly difficult to study.
Mainly because of their shy personality, their lower population, and their limited habitat.
What Do Narwhals Eat?
One of the main food sources for narwhals is fish, specifically cod.
They will swim up to a mile beneath the surface of the water in search of cod.
These whales have an extremely specialized diet.
Their main food consists of shrimp, squids, halibut, and other types of marine life they can catch.
It is believed that narwhals consume between two and four percent of their body weight each day.
This means that a large narwhal could eat as much as 100 pounds of food in a single day!
Given the fact that they live in such cold waters, it is not surprising that they need to consume a lot of food to maintain their body temperature.
How Do Narwhals Hunt?
Narwhals that have tusks do not only have them for the show, but evidence has surfaced showing these whales also use their horns to aid in catching food.
They can use their horns to slash, or jab at fish, and immobilize them.
Narwhals are great swimmers and are equipped to dive as low as 5,000 feet below sea level.
Like other whales, they breathe oxygen and have blowholes to be able to breathe while their body is submerged.
They swim at a pace of around 4 miles per hour.
Despite their slow movement narwhals have been known to swim up as much as 100 miles a day.
To help catch fish, they are able to stay underwater for up to 25 minutes.
They swim for long periods looking for food they can slash into pieces to eat.
Narwhals’ horns are also useful for navigating and help them sense changes in the water.
Do Narwhals Hunt Together?
Narwhals live in groups with 10 to 20 members.
When they travel they move across the surface of the ocean.
In the summer season, narwhals can create groups with hundreds of members, and when they gather it is called a blessing.
When traveling together this species feeds on the fish, shrimp, and other sea life they pass by.
On rare occasions, they have gathered in groups of more than 1,000 members, and they hunt and breed when together.
Narwhal Reproduction and Lifecycle
Narwhals live for around 25 years on average, but it is not rare for them to reach over 50 years of age.
They have a long gestation period that lasts between 13 to 16 months.
At the age of 6 to 9 years old, narwhals reach sexual maturity.
The tusks of male narwhals are also believed to be used to compete for mates.
Breeding season is known to occur in the spring months, and they give birth in the next year’s summer.
Freshly born narwhals are called calves, and females give birth to one at a time.
Even at birth, these whales are still very large, weighing on average 175 lbs, and having a length of 5.2 feet.
Diet of Baby Narwhals
After birth, the calves rely on their mother for survival.
Like other mammals, baby narwhals will nurse, drinking milk for around the first 20 months.
As they get older they begin to learn how to hunt fish and other marine life.
Living with other narwhals lets them learn how to communicate with each other as they grow.
They use sounds like clicks, knocks, and other noises made with their blowhole to talk with each other.
The various sounds used help pass along information about food or predators.
A new member of the group is always welcome, and they are social.
Babies born may just be some of the few narwhals that live for more than 100 years.
Where Do Narwhals Live?
Narwhals are one of the few whales that primarily live in arctic waters, but their locations and depths depend on the season.
As migratory creatures, these animals take similar routes yearly, traveling across the arctic.
In the summer, they live in ice-free waters near the coast.
They go to deeper waters in the winter and live under thick sea ice.
Narwhals in the spring begin to move back to coastal waters and move within paths that break in the arctic ice.
Countries like Russia, Norway, Canada, and Greenland are near the arctic waters where this whale lives.
Predators of Narwhal
Polar bears, killer whales, and sharks are some of the predators that narwhals face in the wild.
Some researchers have suggested they may use their tusks to fend off prey and break through thick sea ice.
Humans are also one of the main predators of narwhals.
People of the arctic hunted them for their tusks, blubber, and flesh.
Today there are around 170,000 to 123,000 mature narwhals alive today.
While not endangered, they are listed as near threatened.
They are at risk of losing their populations, with climate change and pollution being their biggest threats.
Preventing narwhals from being abused by the illegal wildlife trades, and maintaining their artic habitat is essential in allowing the rebound for this species to begin.
Although we have a general idea of what narwhals eat, there is still much to learn about these fascinating creatures.
Scientists believe that climate change could have a major impact on the diet of narwhals, as it does with many other Arctic animals.
As the ice melts and the waters warm, new species of fish could move into the narwhal’s habitat, which could change what they eat.
Narwhals are just one of the variety of sea mammals at risk of extinction, because of the changing climate and pollution.
Only time will tell what the future holds for these unique creatures
If you’re interested in learning more about narwhals, be sure to check out our other blog post on these amazing animals!
Because of their very secretive nature, they are surprising humans with how amazing they are.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time…
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