© Paul Nicklen / National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada


The narwhal is famous for the long ivory tusk which spirals counter-clockwise several feet forward from its upper lip. The tusk is actually the whale's upper left canine tooth. Male narwhals commonly have a single tusk, but they sometimes have two tusks, or none at all. Around 15% of females have a tusk.

Narwhal facts

  • scientific name
    Monodon monoceros
  • adult weight
    males up to 1900 kg; females up to 1550 kg
  • adult length
    males up to 5.4 m; females up to 4.9 m, plus tusk up to 3 m
  • population
    > 120,000 mature individuals
  • status
    Least Concern (IUCN)

Tracking narwhals from space

Satellite tags allow us to follow the movements of narwhal as they go about their annual feeding and reproductive routines, in order to better understand these unique creatures.

Read more

What is a narwhal's tusk for?

For centuries now, people have puzzled over the narwhal's unicorn-like tusk, and just what purpose it serves.


The work of Dr. Martin Nweeia and science and Inuit colleagues involved with the Narwhal Tusk Research project has unearthed evidence that the tusk has sensory capabilities.


Using drone photography, filmmaker Adam Ravetch captured a surprising behaviour for the first time. In this amazing video, a male narwhal appears to use his tusk to hit and stun fish.

Threats to narwhals

Thousands of years of evolution have prepared Arctic species like the polar bear, walrus and narwhal for life on and around the sea ice. Because of climate change, that ice cover has been changing rapidly, in both extent and thickness, and shrinking far too quickly for these species to adapt. A narwhal’s entire life is connected to sea ice, both as a place to feed and a place to take refuge. Slow swimming whales rely on sea ice as a place to hide from predators like killer whales.
Vessels that support oil and gas development mean increased shipping in sensitive areas. Increased shipping means more noise that can mask communications for many Arctic marine species and it increases the potential for collisions with marine mammals, especially whales. It also brings more pollution and a greater possibility of oil or fuel spills.
Shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction and military activities cause underwater noise pollution. Since whales depend on sound to communicate, any interference by noise pollution can negatively affect their ability to find food and mates, navigate, avoid predators and take care of their young.

How we work

A quieter ocean for Arctic whales

Whales depend on sound to survive. WWF is working to limit sound pollution in Arctic waters by making parts of the ocean important for whales off limits to particularly loud industrial activities.

Reducing shipping impacts in Greenland

Increasing demand for Greenlandic resources means ship traffic is likely to grow significantly over the next few decades. WWF advises on the risks and engages communities and governments in discussions about best practices for shipping and marine spatial planning.

Tools for mariners

WWF has created maps and posters for Canadian ships in the Arctic to help mariners identify and avoid marine mammals.

Understanding narwhals

WWF supports a multi-partner research project with local Inuit communities, fitting satellite radio-transmitters to narwhals to investigate seasonal movements, key staging and wintering habitats, dive depths and diets.


The Circle 01.2022
The Circle 01.2022
17 January 2022
The Circle 04.19
The Circle 04.19
3 December 2019
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
17 September 2018
The Circle 03.18
The Circle 03.18
17 July 2018
Greenland Mariners' Guide
Greenland Mariners' Guide
27 September 2017
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
25 May 2017
See all 12 publications

Meet the team


Senior Advisor, Arctic and marine


Project Coordinator


Senior specialist, Arctic species & ecosystems

WWF Arctic Coordinating Team

Senior Specialist, Arctic species