Narwhal Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Diehl

Elizabeth has taught in various capacities for 5 years, at both the elementary level and with secondary students. She has a bachelors in History from UCCS and a masters in Special Education from Regis University.

There's no other whale quite like the narwhal. We will be learning about their physical characteristics, where they live, and some of the dangers narwhals face.

Whale of Mystery

Deep in the cold Arctic Ocean, a mysterious whale hunts. She swims a mile deep, to the bottom of the ocean to find fish in the pitch black water. Like many other kinds of whales, she uses echolocation to find her way around.

Once she catches a fish, she swallows it in one big gulp, and swims back to a hole in the ice for a breath of air. She joins her family, who has also been diving for fish. The males in her family have tusks growing out of their upper jaw.

Our mysterious whale is a narwhal.

What Narwhals Look Like

Narwhals are often called 'sea unicorns' or 'unicorn whales' because the male narwhal has a tusk that sticks straight out of his upper left jaw. The tusks are about 8 feet long. Occasionally females grow tusks, but this is rare. Narwhals use their tusks to impress other narwhals, sort of like peacocks do with their fancy tails.

A group of male narwhals at the surface of the water.
Male narwhals have tusks

Narwhals are small compared to other kinds of whales - only about 14 feet long. They have a curved body with small flippers, a bulging forehead, and no fin on their back. Splotches of gray and black cover their backs, while their bellies are white.

How Narwhals Eat

If a narwhal opens its mouth for you, you won't see any teeth. Instead of chewing, narwhals gulp down their food. The male narwhal's tusk is actually a canine tooth!

Because narwhals hunt beneath the sea ice, where it's too dark to see, no one knows they catch fish without teeth. However, scientists know that narwhals use echolocation to find food. Narwhals make clicking noises in the water and figure out what's around them based on how the sound bounces around (or echoes).

Narwhals like to eat arctic fish such as cod, shrimp and small squid. All of these creatures live close to the bottom of the ocean, so narwhals are excellent divers.

Where Narwhals Live

Narwhals love the cold and live in the heart of the Arctic Ocean. Like many other whales, they migrate, or travel to other living areas, throughout the year.

In the summer, narwhals gather into huge groups in the Arctic Ocean, and some spend their summers off the coast of Greenland. In the winter, they break off into small family pods, and travel under the ice as it freezes. Families like to return to the same places year after year.

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