If you love unicorns — and, really, who doesn’t? — then you’re going to love learning about “the unicorn of the sea.” No, it’s not an underwater horse. And it doesn’t sparkle. But it’s a magical creature all the same.

What are we talking about? The narwhal, of course! Sometimes called “the Arctic unicorn,” narwhals are small whales (about 15-16 feet long) that live in the icy waters of the Atlantic and Russian areas of the Arctic Ocean, near Canada and Greenland.

Narwhals are most closely related to the beluga whale. Male narwhals feature a unique, defining physical characteristic: a long protrusion from the upper left jaw that looks like a tusk or a horn. In medieval times, people believed that narwhal tusks were the horns of the legendary unicorn.

In reality, though, a narwhal tusk is not a unicorn horn. In fact, it’s not a horn at all. Would you believe it’s a tooth? It’s true!

Male narwhals have a left incisor tooth that grows outward straight through the left side of the upper jaw. It can grow up to almost 10 feet in length with a distinctive spiral shape. Female narwhals also have a similar tusk that’s much shorter and straighter.

A narwhal’s right incisor is normally small, but occasionally it also grows out. These “two-horned” narwhals are very rare.

Scientists aren’t completely sure what purpose narwhal tusks serve. At one time, people believed they might be used to break ice or spear fish. Further study has shown, though, that they’re most likely used in mating rituals to impress females or battle rival males.

Narwhals feed on fish that swim deep under the Arctic ice. In fact, narwhals are known for making some of the deepest dives of any marine mammal. Narwhals have been known to dive to depths of over 2,500 feet over 15 times per day, with some dives reaching as deep as almost 5,000 feet!

Today, they’re still hunted legally by the Inuit peoples of Canada and Greenland. Known for their ability to use all parts of the narwhal, the Inuit peoples eat narwhal meat, harvest their tusks to use as tools and even eat their skin, which is a good source of vitamin C.

The name narwhal comes from the Old Norse words nar (corpse) and whal (whale). Narwhals were likely called “corpse whales” because of their pale, mottled coloring that made them look like drowned sailors!

In the Middle Ages, people believed narwhal tusks were unicorn horns with magical powers, such as the ability to render poison harmless. As a result, traders could sell narwhal tusks for many times their weight in gold. Royalty bought these tusks to make cups they believed would keep them from ever being poisoned.

 

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    • Good morning, Vikkie! Thanks for being the very first Wonder Friend to comment on today’s NARWHAL Wonder! We really like your guess about tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day®. We’ll all have to check back tomorrow to see if your guess was correct! :-)

    • Way to go, Paige! That was a GREAT guess about today’s Wonder! We can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day® will be! :-)

    • Those are both GREAT questions, Rickii! Thanks for WONDERing even more about narwhals after exploring today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  1. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about the Aborigines of Australia.
    In Latin class, I learned that there is an extinct species that was from India that was the closest species to the Unicorn. It was a sort of hippopotamus with a horn.

    • WOW! Thanks for sharing that cool fact about that extinct species, Molly! You taught us something new today and added something GREAT to this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We think it’s really awesome that you like narwhals so much after learning all about them with today’s Wonder of the Day®, Cassidy! We think they’re COOL creatures, too! :-)

  2. Hi, this is Abby again. Did you make it about narwhals because someone said that’s what they hoped it will be? Narwhals look like unicorns and, as you know from before, I love, love, love, unicorns (even if they are not real). Do you believe in Santa, because I don’t.

    • Hi, Abby! We actually had a Wonder Friend named “Awesome” who suggested a Wonder about narwhals when he or she commented on Wonder #428 back in December! See, we really do listen to every suggestion from our Wonder Friends about what future Wonders of the Day they’d like to see! :-)

  3. Dear wonderopolis, that was a cool and cute video. I love wonderopolis thanks for another great wonder. I wonder what tomorrow’s wonder’s going to be?

    • We think you are a super, amazing, great, awesome Wonder Friend for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and leaving us a cool comment, Hailey! Thanks so much! :-)

  4. I read about Narwhals, and I think that they are big and look like rocks because of their skin color. I think that they look a little bit like big whales. Also, I think they look funny with their long tooth. Bye, have a great day!

    • Hi, Audrey! Thanks so much for sharing what you think about narwhals after exploring this Wonder of the Day® about them! That long tooth sure is unique, isn’t it? :-)

  5. We read a Scholastic News about narwhals just yesterday and we learned that their tusk can be as long as a classroom door! We also learned from the Scholastic News that the purpose of the tusk is to fight. We learned today from Wonderopolis that narwhals can have 2 tusks!!

    • Happy Tuesday, Mrs. Rist’s 2nd Grade Class! We’re so happy that you visited today’s Wonder together and learned something new about narwhals! Thank you for helping US learn some new things, too, by sharing about Scholastic News! :-)

  6. We really liked learning about narwhals today. Do you know how the narwhals break through the ice? How do their tusks grow? What would happen if their tusk fell off? Why don’t females have tusks?
    Also, how many babies to narwhals have?

    • Hello, Heather! We’re so happy to hear that you and your classmates visited Wonderopolis today! Thank you for letting us know…we hope you guys had LOTS of fun learning here! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing how you feel about narwhals, Clayton! We really like your comment and we are super glad you visited this Wonder about a creature you like so much! :-)

    • We’re so happy that you think this Wonder is awesome, Rithik! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

  7. Narwhals are creatures of the sea. They are kind of like whales, but they have a big tusk coming from right above their mouth. The tusk is actually a big overgrown tooth.

    • Thanks so much for sharing what you know about narwhals, Landon! We think they are super cool creatures, and we’re glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® to learn more about them! Thanks! :-)

  8. They also live in the oceans near Alaska. Sorry if this sounds like this is correcting you, but I love narwhals and I don”t live near Alaska.

    • Thanks for adding something awesome to this Wonder of the Day® about narwhals, McNeil 15! We appreciate your comment very much! :-)

  9. 2 things, wonderopolis…

    1. In the video, what are the narwhals doing???

    2. There is a kid that follows me around in school and he always shouts “NARWALS!!!” when he sees me!!!!! It is SO ANNOYING!

    • Thanks for sharing your two things with us today, The Awesomeness! We think the narwhals in the video are just hanging out, being narwhals and making lots of cool sounds!

      We have an awesome idea! The next time your friend from school shouts, “NARWHALS!” at you, ask him how many cool facts he knows about narwhals. Then, you can share with him all the GREAT things you learned about narwhals by exploring this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  10. Hi:3
    I never heard of a narwhal! I learn that a narwhal’s horn is its tooth. I WONDER how do the narwhals make that sound!? So, narwhals are called ‘the arctic unicorn’, I can get why the call them that! If they keep killing narwhals they will be gone forever!( ;( ) I never knew that narwhal’s are 15-16 feet and it comes form the old Norse words, nar(corpse), whal(whale). I don’t know so much about narwhals but now I do!
    Thanks for making us
    WONDER!

    • Thanks for sharing all the cool things you learned about narwhals by exploring this Wonder of the Day®, Team Unger #2! We think it is cool that they can make such beautiful sounds that can travel such far distances! We think they make the sound with the round part of their foreheads. We have heard many whale sounds before, but we like the way narwhals sound underwater! :-)

  11. Hey, it’s me again! My favorite animal is a unicorn, but since they were never real these are cool, too!!:) (but in my heart they will always be real).

    • We’re glad you clicked on the link we shared with you and explored this Wonder about the “unicorns of the sea,” Liam! Thanks for letting us know what you think! :-)

    • Hi there, Jack! We love your comment today! :) We Wonder if you can describe (in Spanish) what a narwhal looks like or where it lives to help your Spanish teacher understand what you mean! We are still learning Spanish here at Wonderopolis… but we think the Spanish translation is “narvahl.” Let us know how the conversation goes en español! :)

  12. WOW!!!! \(^-^)/
    Reading all of this and watching this video got me jumping on my toes!!!!

    This has got to be my favorite wonder! I thought that I knew a lot about narwhals, but I learned so much more!!

    I LOVE everyone who thought of this wonder! <3 thanks!! :) :P B)

    • We’re glad that you enjoyed WONDERing about narwhals with us today, Wonder Friend! We are oh-so-glad that you have learned something new about a topic you LOVE! :)

  13. Hi there Narwhal here. YES I AM A NARWHAL. I was just watching me swim through the sea and BOY AM I NOISY. But thanks for getting my good side because, being the female narwhal I am, my dream is to be a narwhal super star so thanks, it really helps my getting a job even though I am only in clam grade, I mean 6th grade. Yes sea computers are real.
    Love: Narwhal

    • Hey there, Wonder Narwhal! We’re so glad you shared your comment with us, from the sea, of course! We are glad you’ve been WONDERing about your very own species with us– it’s so much fun to have a WONDERful narwhal friend like you! :)

  14. I think narwhals are pretty cool, the horn, wow. I thought they were just small whales. And now there’s a song about them……. Narwhals narwhals swimming in the ocean causing a comotion because they are so awesome, even beat a polar bear in a fight.

    • Thanks for sharing the narwhal song with us, Wonder Friend D! We think it sounds like a fun song to listen to… especially since narwhals are so awesome! :)

    • AWESOME, Kennedy! You are not alone– we have many Wonder Friends who are big narwhal fans, too! Thanks for joining the fun and WONDERing with us today! :)

    • What a great question, Wonder Friend Olivia! Check out the excerpt below for your answer, Olivia:

      “Narwhals are most closely related to the beluga whale. Male narwhals feature a unique, defining physical characteristic: a long protrusion from the upper left jaw that looks like a tusk or a horn. In medieval times, people believed that narwhal tusks were the horns of the legendary unicorn.

      In reality, though, a narwhal tusk is not a unicorn horn. In fact, it’s not a horn at all. Would you believe it’s a tooth? It’s true!

      Male narwhals have a left incisor tooth that grows outward straight through the left side of the upper jaw. It can grow up to almost 10 feet in length with a distinctive spiral shape. Female narwhals also have a similar tusk that’s much shorter and straighter.

      A narwhal’s right incisor is normally small, but occasionally it also grows out. These “two-horned” narwhals are very rare.” :)

    • Good afternoon, Cool5! We LOVE to Wonder about narwhals because they are totally awesome! We’ve noticed lots of books the feature narwhals, too! Have a SUPER day! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Leo! We’re so glad that you enjoyed our Wonder about your favorite animal! We look forward to WONDERing with you and Rock’n Room #16 again soon! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a narwhal?
  • Is a narwhal horn really a horn?
  • Where do narwhals live?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to dive deep to have some fun with narwhals? First, check out this fantastic video of narwhals migrating during the summer through cracks in the melting Arctic ice.

Think you know what a narwhal looks like in the wild? Put your skills to the test by assembling this fun online Narwhal Jigsaw Puzzle!

If you love narwhals as much as we do, you’ll have tons of fun putting together a crafty Narwhal collage or diorama. When you’re finished, be sure to email us a picture of your creation or post a picture on Facebook. We can’t wait to see it!

 

Still Wondering

In EDSITEment!’s Unicorns, Dragons, and Other Magical Creatures lesson, children explore images of magical creatures from around the world.

 

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