The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Group of narwhals. Photo: Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen

Photo: M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

The narwhal is a medium-sized toothed whale that belongs to the family Monodontidae. The only other member of this family is the beluga. Narwhals have stout, torpedo-shaped bodies with a low dorsal ridge in place of a dorsal fin, and a concave-shaped tail fin. They lack the extremely flexible neck and well-defined beak of their closest relative, the beluga. Like the beluga, the narwhal has short paddle-shaped front flippers. At birth, narwhals are grey to greyish-blue in colour. They become darker and more mottled as they grow older, with white patches developing from their abdomen to up over their backs. Adult narwhals are usually light grey in colour, with a mottled pattern of darker markings over a lighter background. Very old narwhal become almost completely white. Male narwhals develop a tusk, which is a modified canine tooth that grows out the left side of the jaw, twisting anti-clockwise to form a spiral. Occasionally male narwhals have two tusks, and a small percentage of females also have a tusk.

Narwhal WandEG EC map and legend for web 

Summer (solid colours) and winter (faded colours) distribution of narwhals in Greenland and Canada.

Narwhal Svalbard

Narwhal distribution around Svalbard, Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land



Narwhals are found in Arctic  waters, in areas that are seasonally ice-covered. They are found in the northern waters of Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia (solid-summer, hatched-winter).


There are several stocks of narwhal. The largest inhabit Arctic Canada during the summer, where narwhal number at least 100,000 animals. At least 20,000 inhabit northwest Greenland and over 6,000 occur in East Greenland at the same time of year.

Relation to Humans

Hunted by native peoples for food and tusks throughout their range. Past commercial harvesting in some areas.

Conservation and Management

International management regime under the Joint Commission for the Conservation and Management of Narwhal and Beluga (JCNB) and NAMMCO. In West Greenland, hunting quotas have been introduced, and present harvests are within sustainable limits.



Photo: J. Blair Dunn, Fisheries and Oceans Canada


North Atlantic Stocks: Exploitation and Assessment Status

Narwhal assessment table