Unicorns might not be real, but unicorns of the sea are very real. These fascinating creatures are known as narwhals. Let's dive in and learn all about these unicorns of the sea.
Narwhals are medium-sized whales, growing to a length of about 4–5.5 m (13–18 ft). The males are generally slightly larger than the females, making the species sexually dimorphic. Narwhals have a mottled coloration of black-grey spots on a light cream or white background. They are darkest when born and will lighten as they age, with the oldest males being almost completely white.
Adults can weigh between 800 kg and 1600 kg (1,760 to 3,530 lb). The Narwhal has some interesting adaptations to its far northern arctic ocean habitat. They, like their closest relative, the Beluga Whale, don't have dorsal fins. There are a few theories as to why this might be. The lack of a dorsal fin minimises the surface area to lose heat through. It also might get damaged more when the whales are surfacing between bits of broken ice. Instead of a dorsal fin, the whales do have a shorter dorsal ridge to help keep them steady underwater.
The Narwhal is a long-lived animal, having a lifespan of up to 50 years. A surprising cause of death in Narwhals is suffocation due to being caught under shifting pack ice. The young are also hunted by orcas. Females reach maturity at a lot younger age than males. The females reach maturity between the ages of 5 and 8 years old. Males only reach maturity at the age of 11 to 13 years of age. Gestation lasts for 14 months, with the young being born in the summer.
The feature that the Narwhal is likely most famous for is its tusks, or horns. It isn't technically a horn, as it is actually a tooth. It is one of the whales' canines that grow out of the front of their snouts. Generally, it is the males that grow the tusks. Only about one in every seven females develops tusks. It generally comes from the left-side upper jaw canine that forms the tusk. The tooth also usually has a left-handed helical spiral. The tusk grows throughout their life and can grow to a length of about 3 meters. When females do grow tusks, they aren't as long or as spiral as those of males. About 1 in 500 males will even grow a second tusk as well. This phenomenon has only ever been proven once in a female, and her skull was given to the Museum of Hamburg in about 1684.
The purpose of the tusk is still up for debate. The fact that so few females get them leads scientists to think it's a sexual trait. Something that allows males to size up their competitors. Another theory, since the tooth is highly enervated throughout its length, is that it is used to sense details about the sea water around it.