Hunting the Unicorns of the Sea

Written by on May 24, 2013 in Marine Life, Whales & Dolphins
Narwhals in Baffin Bay.

Narwhals in Baffin Bay. Photo credit: NOAA/University of Washington.

As Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans joins with the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (NTI) to create a fishery management plan for hunting narwhals, now might be a good time to learn a little more about the “unicorns of the sea.”

A new fishery management plan is now in place for narwhals (Monodon monoceros) in the northern Hudson Bay. Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq announced on Monday that Nunavut hunters will be allowed to harvest 147 narwhals from the northern Hudson Bay population.

Now, here are some fun facts about narwhals:

  • The narwhal is a toothed whale (odontoceti) that lives in the cold waters of the Arctic and eats squid, fish and shrimp.
  • There are an estimated 80,000 individuals worldwide, but it’s very hard to get an accurate count.
  • Adults have a mottled dark gray/black and white color; young narwhal are completely gray and older ones are almost completely white.
  • They regularly travel in groups of around 20, but groups of hundreds and even thousands have been seen before.
  • They are easily identified by their ‘tusk’ which is actually a tooth that has grown upwards and through the lip — their tusk is actually the only straight tusk known to exist and it is fairly flexible.
  • Most researchers do not believe the tusks are used for violence because they are covered in nerves and therefore are very sensitive.
  • Narwhals are hunted and consumed by Inuit as a good source of vitamin C, however eating them is becoming risky as levels of PCBs and mercury continute to increase in the Arctic food web.

Watch this clip from National Geographic to see narwhals in their natural habitat:

To learn more, check out some of these resources:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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