The Unicorns of the Sea
This Week’s Spotlight Animal: The Narwhal!
Often called the Unicorns of the Sea, narwhals have become a mystical sea mammal because of their protruding tusks. This tusk, which is actually an enlarged tooth (the only tooth in their mouth!), is most commonly found in males. It has a spiraled pattern and can be as long as 10 feet in some cases. In proportion to the rest of an adult narwhal’s body, which is usually around 16 feet, their tusk is especially prominent.
So, what do they use it for? Unfortunately, their tusks don’t have magical properties (I wish!). There used to be much debate surrounding the use of their tusk. Many scientists thought it was used for fighting or attracting potential mates. Recent studies show that the tusk is actually filled with sensitive nerves, that may help the narwhal detect temperature, water pressure, motion, and much more.
Lifestyle and Diet
This is a sea creature that we’ve all definitely heard of, but in reality, we don’t know much about their way of life at all. Narwhals live in the Arctic Circle, and can be found off the coast of Greenland, Canada, and Russia. Unlike other whale species that migrate, narwhals spend the entire year in the Arctic region.
They spend most of their time about a mile beneath the ocean’s surface, and use cracks in the icy surface to breathe. Their diet mainly consists of fish like the Greenland halibut, cod, and shrimp.
Threats and Conservation Efforts
Narwhals have a fairly stable population, with their conservation status being Near Threatened according to The World Wildlife Fund. Although their numbers are not declining rapidly, climate change and increased human activity near their habitat creates disturbances in their way of life. Climate change melts the Arctic ice they use as shelter and a place to find food.
New oil and gas development in the Arctic Circle increases the traffic in their waters, creating a greater threat of collisions with vessels. Activities such as drilling also create oceanic noise pollution. Oceanic noise pollution is especially harmful to whale species, which use low frequency sounds to communicate. Added noise in their surroundings can make it difficult for them to hear each other and navigate.
To help the narwhal population continue to thrive, steps have been taken against whaling (the killing of whales for their blubber, skin, or tusks) and preventing underwater noise pollution. To show your support, click the link below: