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narwhal

narwhal (när´wəl), a small arctic whale, Monodon monoceros. The males of the species, and an occasional female, bear a single, tightly spiraled tusk that measures up to 9 ft (2.7 m) in length. The tusk is an overgrown upper canine tooth, generally the one on the left, that emerges through the upper lip. Very rarely do both canines grow out in this manner; the narwhal is otherwise toothless. Although the functions of the tusk are unclear, it lacks enamel and is nerve-rich, and can sense changes in the environment. Males also appear to use it in sparing with other males.

The narwhal is short-headed and virtually snoutless. When mature, it is mottled gray in color. Like its close relative the beluga, it lacks a dorsal fin, but it does have a long, low dorsal hump. The narwhal may reach a length of 20 ft (6.1 m), excluding the tusk. It is found in the Arctic and N Atlantic oceans, occasionally as far south as Britain; narwhals usually travel in groups of 15 to 20 animals. The diet of narwhals consists chiefly of cuttlefish and cod. Mating occurs in the summer, and after a gestation of 14 months the female gives birth to a single blue-gray calf measuring up to 5 ft (1.5 m). The calves are weaned at six months. Formerly killed for its tusk, which was believed to have magical properties (and was sold for centuries as a unicorn horn), the narwhal is now hunted by native peoples for food and for the tusk.

The narwhal is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Cetacea, family Monodontidae.

See studies by F. Bruemmer (1993), J. Rosing (1999), and T. McLeish (2013).

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narwhal

narwhal XVII. — Du. narwal — Da. narhval; the second el. is WHALE. The relation to synon. ON. náhvalr is obscure; the latter appears to be f. nár corpse, and the allusion is supposed to be to the colour of the animal's skin.

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narwhal

narwhal a small Arctic whale, the male of which has a long forward-pointing spirally twisted tusk developed from one of its teeth; in the past this tusk was sometimes represented as or believed to be a unicorn's horn, with its magic properties.

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narwhal

narwhal Small, toothed Arctic whale. The male has a twisted horn, half as long as its body, which develops from a tooth and protrudes horizontally through one side of the upper lip. Length: up to 5m (16ft). Species Monodon monoceros.

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narwhal

nar·whal / ˈnärwəl/ • n. a small Arctic whale (Monodon monoceros, family Monodontidae), the male of which has a long spirally twisted tusk developed from one of its teeth.

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narwhal

narwhal (Monoceros) See MONODONTIDAE.

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narwhal

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