08 Jul 2022 | Arctic Animals

The narwhal’s tusk has long captured the imagination of people across the globe. They were found in medieval courts and inspired legends of unicorns.

Today we’re still trying to understand the mystery of their tusks. What are they for and how do narwhal use them?

Are they used for protection like elephant tusks or are they closer to  the long ivory tooth of a walrus?

Come explore the fascinating story behind the narwhal tusk.


Narwhal Facts 


SCIENTIFIC NAME: Monodon monoceros

TYPE: Mammals

DIET: Carnivore

SIZE: 13 – 18 ft /3.95 – 5.5 m

Male WEIGHT: 1,600 kg / 3,500 lb

Female WEIGHT: 1,000 kg / 2,200 lb

Life span: 50 y/o


The Famous Tusk

There have been many theories about what tusks are and how they are used by narwhal.

Is it a sexual trait like the colourful feathers found in male birds? But 15% of females grow tusks so it’s not that.

Maybe it is to assert dominance like the horns grown on a ram? Used to fight for breeding rights to a group of female narwhal or even to assert leadership over a pod of whales. But the tusk is incredibly sensitive with millions of nerve endings, so they wouldn’t want to use it violently or it would really hurt.

If it was a critical aspect of a narwhal’s survival in the Arctic, like the way walrus have giant tusks to dig breathing holes, then all narwhal would have a tusk.

So, what is it?!

We do know that it is a tooth. The tusk is a canine tooth that protrudes out of the left side of the upper jaw.

This tooth is the only straight tusk in the world, and it has a left spinning helix that ends at a point.

The tusk is hollow and can reach 3.1 m (10.2 ft). It is hollow and weighs around 10 kg (22 lb). A female tusk is a little smaller and the spiral is less noticeable.

They can grow a second tusk, but it is found in roughly 1-in-500 narwhal. This second tooth will also spiral in a left helix and come out of the right side of the upper jaw.

The tusk will grow throughout their entire life. It is quite flexible and can bend about a foot.

While the narwhal is considered a toothed whale, the tusk(s) are the only teeth they will grow.


See Narwhal in Person

These whales are so elusive that one of the top googled questions is whether narwhals are real. Well, they sure are and you can fulfill this incredible bucket list goal on an Arctic Safari.

Travel to the north of Baffin Island where the narwhal live. Explore the floe edge and stand front row as pods of narwhal swim past you on their annual migration.

Watch tusks burst out of the water and narwhal dive below. Listen to their squeaks and whistles as they bob below the surface.

This land-based small group gives you unobstructed views and help you get breathtaking photos of one of the most rarely seen whales on Earth.

Find out more about our Narwhal & Polar Bear, A Floe Edge Safari.


Experience The Arctic On A Safari

Get chances to view elusive Arctic wildlife and experience the majesty of the Arctic on safaris almost year-round. View all Arctic Safaris here.

Ready for adventure? Contact our Arctic Travel Advisors to book.

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Are you still curious about the many wonders of the Arctic or looking for more interesting content then explore more blogs here!

By: Mathew Whitelaw