#SeaUnicorn

Uncover Narwhal Secrets

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The narwhal is famous for the long ivory tusk that spirals up to 9 feet forward from its face. 

Research supported by WWF has revealed some amazing things - like millions of nerve endings in the tusk that suggest it's a sophisticated sensor. Now new research shows narwhals appearing to use their tusks for a purpose never before documented. 

You can help WWF uncover more Arctic wildlife secrets.

1 Working at the top of the world

Watching for the unicorn of the sea

For the past few summers, scientists have travelled to the remote reaches of the Canadian Arctic to track narwhals, the mysterious unicorns of the sea.

Found only in high Arctic waters, the narwhal isn’t easy to study. The researchers set up camp on the rocky shore, set a net in the water, and settle in for a long, cold wait.

The Arctic summer sun barely sets on the camp, and scientists work in shifts to spot narwhals in the net. Floats on the net bob and the watcher shouts - whale in the net! Quickly, the researchers suit up and leap into the boat.

Watch narwhal researchers in action

  • The researchers set up a net, then wait on the rocky Arctic shoreline for the narwhals to arrive. A watcher is on duty 24 hours per day.

    The researchers set up a net, then wait on the rocky Arctic shoreline for the narwhals to arrive. A watcher is on duty 24 hours per day.

  • As soon as a narwhal is caught, the researchers suit up and rush out to free it from the net.

    As soon as a narwhal is caught, the researchers suit up and rush out to free it from the net.

  • Researchers take measurements and blood samples, fit the narwhal with a small transmitter, then release it.

    Researchers take measurements and blood samples, fit the narwhal with a small transmitter, then release it.

  • The transmitter allows scientists to follow the narwhals in real time, and provides important insights into their migration routes and key feeding grounds.

    The transmitter allows scientists to follow the narwhals in real time, and provides important insights into their migration routes and key feeding grounds.

Tracking narwhals lets us identify critical habitat and push for its protection.

Brandon Laforest

Brandon Laforest

Senior specialist, Arctic species and ecosystems, WWF-Canada

Your support helps researchers understand and conserve narwhals and other Arctic species.

Melanie Lancaster

Melanie Lancaster

Senior Specialist, Arctic species

As the Arctic warms, this work is more urgent than ever.

Pete Ewins

Pete Ewins

Lead Specialist, Species Conservation, WWF-Canada

2 A stunning discovery

Uncovering the tooth

Technological advances in the field allow researchers to reduce stress to the animals they study. Thanks to drone photography, the researchers captured a surprising behaviour for the first time.

In this amazing video, a male narwhal appears to use his tusk to hit and stun fish.

“The Holy grail for a wildlife cinematographer is to document animal behavior no one has seen before, and by doing so, contribute new knowledge."

Adam Ravetch, Wildlife Filmmaker, Arctic Bear Productions

Narwhals appear to stun fish using their tusks in footage by videographer Adam Ravetch.

3 Narwhals in a changing Arctic

Urgent threats

Sea ice provides narwhals with a place to feed and hide from predators. But the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and sea ice is melting fast.

Changing sea ice means new challenges for narwhals. Predatory killer whales are moving north into previously ice-covered waters. Ships are navigating further north, bringing a risk of spills. And exploration for oil means seismic blasts that can disturb whales.

Donors are the heroes that directly support research and conservation. Without you, the threats from climate change and industrial development facing the Arctic's iconic species would go unchecked. Thank you for having the narwhal’s back.

Brandon Laforest

Brandon Laforest

Senior specialist, Arctic species and ecosystems, WWF-Canada