The Story of Canada's Narwhals

The Narwhal – or deep-sea-unicorn as we like to call it – held a significant role in Canada’s culture and economy in the past. So much so, that for some communities the Narwhals are still very socially significant.

Today Narwhals can be (rarely) found in Baffin Bay and Hudson Bay in the Arctic Ocean. Consensus states that they live up to 50, but most Narwhals don’t make it past 30 years. A male narwhal can grow up to approximately 5.5 meters and nearly 2000 kg. Females are slightly smaller.

The overwhelming majority of the population can be found in Baffin Bay, and the total population is around 47,000 mature individuals.

Narwhals are mostly hunted these days for their skin – which is sold for a high price to be eaten locally – and their ivory – which is sold internationally. Both the skin and the ivory are worth a lot of money, while the rest of the animal is not eaten.  

Narwhals are threatened by hunting, water pollution, climate change and industrial activities. Their choice of deeper waters reduces the


Narwhal Factoids

  • Narwhals are medium-sized whales who don’t have a dorsal fin.
  • Adult Narwhals have two teeth. In males, the right tooth often remains embedded in the skull and the left forms a spiral tusk that can measure over three meters long.
  • Two of three recognized populations of Narwhals are found in Canada. The third is in East Greenland.
  • Little is known of the habitat requirements of Narwhals. They prefer coastal areas in the summer, as those offer deep waters and shelter from the wind. In the fall, Narwhals migrate to deep fjords and the continental shelf, where water depths can get up to 1500 meters.
  • Most calves (or deep-sea-unicorn-babies) are produced in July and August after a gestation period of 14 to 15.3 months. Females produce a single calf every three years on average.
  • Narwhals make a variety of sounds and are sensitive to underwater noise. They are thought to use click-sounds for orientation and for echolocation. They also squeal, growl, and whistle to communicate.

Is the deep-sea-unicorn your favourite animal? Which Canadian animals would you like to learn about next? Let us know.

Narwhal protection

Narwhal protection in Canada only extends to managing hunting, live capture, and the movement of Narwhal products. There is no marine conservation or protected areas that protect Narwhals in Canadian waters, though Narwhals can be found in some areas within Nunavut National Parks.