Where to see and what to know about the narwhal, the unicorn of the sea

For the past few days you have been exploring the far northern reaches of Canada, camping out on the ice floes that surround Bylot and Baffin Island. So far you have had heart-pumping encounters with polar bears, met with the local Inuit people, witnessed seals and walrus, and climbed steep icebergs.


Today as you relax by the flow edge watching a flock of eider ducks swoop down over the still water, you see for the very first time, the tusk of a narwhal pierce the surface. Your guide surveys the situation as they playfully delve beneath you in search of food, and decides that it is safe to swim with them today. You don your dry suit and snorkel, slowly lowering yourself in from the ice to the freezing water.


Our Narwhal and Polar Bear safari gives you the option of swimming with the narwhal if the opportunity arises, but for those who would prefer not to get wet, you can relax and watch them from the safety of the floe edge.


You can see narwhal battling their way in through the crack in the floe edge in search of food as the summer approaches the Arctic.

narwhal

These magnificent animals are famous for the intricate, spear-like tusk that protrudes from their heads. Actually an elongated canine growing straight through the top lip, this tusk seen on males, grows up to 2.7 metres in length and it spirals towards the tip with a hollow interior. The purpose of the ‘tusk’ or tooth still isn’t confirmed, though thought perhaps to impress females. Females occasionally grow their own, but it is never as impressive as the males, in fact some males can grow two.


By definition, the word ‘narwhal’ means corpse whale, as they often swim on their backs and lay without moving for several minutes. Part of the Monodontidae family, alongside the beluga whale, they feed on squid and fish and travel in groups, usually of between 15 and 20 individuals.


Narwhals are among the world’s deepest known divers, staying under the water for up to 25 minutes at a time and going as deep as 1,500 metres. They often get trapped in moving pack ice and fall prey to Inuit who hunt them for their beautiful tusks and their vitamin C rich skin. There are strict hunting quotas in place to help ensure the survival of the species. Known enemies of the narwhal are polar bears, walruses and humans.


Solely living in Arctic waters, they have been seen in joined pods of hundreds, or even thousands, as they try to work their way into the cracks of breaking floe ice.

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