Weird Nature

19 Bizarre Things You Didn't Know About Narwhals

Let's face it: narwhals are weird. What is a narwhal, anyway? It's like a unicorn mixed with a whale, right? Like the similarly bizarre duck-billed platypus, narwhals appear to be some kind of odd hiccup of evolution, like something went terribly wrong, and boom: narwhals. In fact, a shocking number of people don't even think they're real!

Why the confusion? Here are some quick narwhal facts that help explain why people can't believe these crazy beasts exist: the giant "horn" looks just like the classic idea of what a unicorn's horn looks like, you can't find narwhals at any aquariums or zoos, and they live in some of the coldest, most remote places on earth. That's why people think they're fake. 

So what are narwhal horns made of? The "horn" is actually a tooth, so... tooth stuff. Narwhal tusks are actually inside-out, with the hardest layers on the inside and the softest on the outside. That's the opposite of how human teeth are formed. As for the unicorn confusion, that stems from Vikings selling narwhal horns as "unicorn horns" to gullible medieval Europeans. Read on for more facts about narwhals that will help clear things up. Spread the word: they're real!
  • Narwhal Tusk Size Is Related To Testicle Size

    Narwhal Tusk Size Is Related To Testicle Size
    Photo: W. Scoresby / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It's hard to make sense of narwhal tusks. Most male narwhals have them, but not all. A small portion of females have them, too, but they're smaller. Is there any connection between tusks and narwhal behavior? Not really; narwhals with and without tusks appear to eat the same, and tuskless narwhals survive just as well as those with them. So... what gives?

    Scientists are unclear about a lot of this, but one thing is for sure: the bigger the tusk, the bigger the testicles. And tusks may play a role in which male narwhal females choose to mate with. That's a fact.
  • Narwhal Blubber Tastes Like Hazelnuts

    Do you enjoy Nutella? You might want to check out narwhal! A layer of narwhal skin and blubber eaten raw (an Inuit delicacy) supposedly tastes like hazelnuts. Narwhal meat (called mattak) is still a vital source of food for people and dogs in Greenland.
  • Narwhal Tusks Used To Be Sold As Unicorn Horns

    Narwhal Tusks Used To Be Sold As Unicorn Horns
    Photo: TenSafeFrogs / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Let's get one thing out of the way: narwhals totally exist. Unicorns totally don't. Got it? But the existence of narwhals made people think for a long time that unicorns did, in fact, exist.

    Why? Well, medieval Europeans didn't exactly have regular access to narwhals. Narwhals live in cold, remote locations, so only Vikings and traders knew about them. This made it easy for merchants to dupe people into thinking they were buying a "genuine" unicorn horn. It's no coincidence that early depictions of unicorn horns look just like narwhal tusks, down to the distinctive spiral.
  • Some Narwhals Don't Have Tusks

    When you think of narwhals, you think of their massive tusks, right? But did you know that some narwhals are tuskless? Scientists aren't quite sure why, which makes trying to figure out what the tusk is used for even more difficult. If the tusk were essential for survival, wouldn't they all have them?

    And why do female narwhals - of which only 3 percent have tusks - live longer than the males?