Discovering the World of These Magical and Enchanting Babies
You only need to take one look at a Narwhal to understand why it is sometimes called the unicorn of the sea. Their long pointy tusk makes them unmistakable in the ocean that they share with other similar sized whales and manatees.
They are one of only two existing whale species in the family Monodontidae. The other is the Beluga Whale which is the closest relative to the narwhal.
In some ways they are very similar to other types of whale. But baby Narwhals have a few features that make them unique, and also very interesting animals.
Here are some fascinating facts about baby narwhals, as well as some answers to many frequently asked questions about these curious, unique mammals of the sea.
7 Interesting Facts About Baby Narwhals
Baby Narwhals Are Called Calves
There is no specific collective noun for a group of baby narwhals, but non specific groups are often known as a ‘pod of narwhals‘, or a ‘blessing of narwhals‘.
The scientific name for a narwhal is Monodon monoceros. This comes from the Greek ‘one-tooth’, or ‘one-horn’ in reference to the single and distinguishable large tusk that males grow.
Narwhal Calves Are Very Big!
As you might expect for a type of whale, narwhal calves are very big. Narwhals grow to be around the same size as Beluga Whales.
Narwhals mate in the spring when they are out in the offshore pack ice. After a gestation period of around 14 months, they give birth usually to a single calf between June and August the following year. Twins are very rare as with most marine mammals, but they do happen around 2% of the time.
A baby calf averages around 1.6 metres (5.2 feet) long, and can easily weigh up to 176 lbs (80 kg). They are a light blue-grey color when they are babies.
Male Baby Narwhals Usually Develop Tusks
Not all narwhals develop tusks, and no narwhal is born with a tusk. They develop later into their adolescence. It is mostly males that develop tusks but the occasional female has been known to grow one too so it’s not as simple as saying the growth of tusks is determined by the sex of the narwhal.
Male narwhals develop long tusks, often growing as long as 10 feet (3 meters) – almost two thirds the length of their body! Females develop tusks about 15% of the time, but most female narwhals don’t have tusks that break through the surface of the skin. Those that do are usually smaller than the tusk of a male.
Males sometimes grow two tusks, but the chances of this are around 1 in every 500. Most males will grow a single tusk out of the left side of their upper jaw. This grows slowly in their adolescence but not usually until they reach about 20 months, around the time they are weaned off their mothers milk.
Narwhal Calves Are The Only Odontocete (Toothed Whales) Not To Have Any Teeth In Their Mouth!
Being that the Narwhal is considered to be a toothed whale, you would expect it to have teeth in some recognisable format to other toothed whales. In that they would be in an expected formation, in their mouth. But narwhals don’t have teeth in their mouth.
They do have a set of small vestigial teeth that grow alongside their tusk, outside the mouth. These serve no purpose whatsoever, a relic of a previous function that is now redundant.
Baby Narwhals Are A Different Color To Adults
Narwhals are known to change color as they age, which can be a good way to determine the stage of life they are in, with some ambiguity. Newborn narwhal have a speckled blue-grey color to their skin. As they mature into adolescence their skin changes to a blue-black color, and in adulthood this changes to a speckled or mottled grey.
In their later years, a narwhal will have a skin that is almost completely white.
Baby Narwhals Stay In The Arctic
Unlike most whale species that migrate widely, narwhals spend their entire lives in the Arctic waters around Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. They do migrate in the sense that they often travel between deep ocean and specific shallow water breeding and feeding areas, but they never usually stray outside of the arctic waters.
Baby Narwhals Are Usually Born Alone
Narwhal mothers give birth to just a single calf the vast majority of the time. They are capable of breeding once every three years.
The calf will typically nurse with its mother for up to 20 months until it is fully weaned. It will continue to live by its mother side until it reaches around 2 years old, learning to become more independent and hunt on its own.
The mother and her calf usually live in a bigger group called a pod, which often contains between 10-20 individuals. Some of these pods are nursery pods, consisting of only mothers and their calves.
When migrating to shallow shore waters though, they can travel together in much larger groups of hundreds, anywhere up to around 1000 individuals.
Baby Narwhals FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Narwhal?
Narwhals, Monodon monoceros, are one of the most mysterious and least studied marine mammals. There are many different populations of narwhal and some even suggest there may be different subspecies – the common or arctic narwhal and the Greenland or Atlantic narwhal. Though this is yet to be proven, and it is mostly accepted that they are all the same.
The lifecycle of a baby narwhal begins with a gestation period of around 14 months. They are able to swim and dive within minutes of being born, and they eat solid food from an early age.
Narwhal calves remain with their mothers for around two years. During this time, they learn how to hunt for food and avoid predators. Narwhals are social animals and typically travel in packs during their migration season.
They do not reach sexual maturity until between the ages of 6 and 9 years old. Until this time they are considered as juvenile until around 2, and adolescent from then until maturity.
The average life span of a narwhal is 20-30 years, but some individuals have been known to live for up to 50 years.
What Do Baby Narwhals Look Like?
Once born, a thin layer of blubber forms on newborn narwhal calves. This develops and they put on weight quickly as they nurse their mother’s milk, which is rich in fat. They have no tusk at birth, and have a blue-grey color to their skin. They are about the size of a small adult human (5.2 feet) and the weight of an average adult male (80 kg) on average.
How Big Do Baby Narwhals Grow?
Narwhals are small to medium-sized cetaceans with bodies that are long and stocky. They have a large head, small eyes, and males have a long tusk that protrudes from the left side of their mouth.
Male narwhals can grow up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) in length, while females usually only reach about 15 feet (4.6 meters).
How Many Baby Narwhals Are Born In A Litter?
Most pregnancies result in a single narwhal calf being born. However, although they are rare, occurrences of twins do happen at a ratio of around 1 in every 50 pregnancies. There are no documented occurrences of any birth having more than twins.
What Do Narwhals Use Their Tusks For?
A Narwhals tusk is a very intimidating thing. The long, spiralled pointy ‘tooth’ looks like it is ready for jousting or fencing. You could certainly take a few eyes out with it. They have been observed using their tusk for hunting fish, by stunning them rather than spearing them. Once stunned, the fish are then easy to eat.
It’s also believed that as narwhals spend so much time underneath pack ice in the arctic, that they use their tusks to create breathing holes in the ice. They also use them to attract females to mate, as well as compete with other males for mating rights. So they are kind of used for jousting after all!
What Do Baby Narwhals Eat?
Calves are dependent on milk for up to 20 months. After this, baby narwhals eat mainly small fish, squid, and crustaceans. They also eat some plants. As they grow older, they eat more fish and less squid and crustaceans.
Favorite food of narwhals include Greenland halibut, cod, shrimp, and Gonatus squid.
How Long Do Baby Narwhals Stay With Their Mothers?
Baby narwhals stay with their mothers for about two years. During this time, they learn how to find food and avoid predators. After they leave their mothers, they live in small pods of 2-6 animals. Pods tend to be larger when females give birth to offspring.
Where Do Baby Narwhals Live?
They are typically born in the icy waters of the Arctic Circle, where they will eventually grow up to become adults. Baby narwhals will spend their entire lives almost, if not exclusively within the waters of the Arctic.
What Are The Natural Predators Of Baby Narwhals?
Baby narwhals have a few natural predators, but the most common one is the orca killer whale. Orcas are very large dolphins (despite the name) that can grow up to 32 feet long and weigh up to 22,000 pounds. They are also very fast and can swim up to 25 miles per hour. Orcas are very good hunters and can easily kill a baby narwhal. Other predators that prey on baby narwhals include sharks, polar bears and walruses.