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Scientists Making Efforts to Track Mythical Narwhals


Artwork by Else Bostelmann


The long and spiraling tusk that grows from the center of the narwhal’s forehead has helped make that animal the subject of sailors’ lore and earned it the nickname “unicorn of the sea.”  That nickname may be even more fitting given the narwhal’s almost mythical elusiveness.  For a long time, very little has been known about the medium-sized whale that calls the inhospitable waters of the Arctic home.

Now efforts are underway to find out more.  In August, scientists working for WWF-Canada captured nine of the 3,500-pound whales and fitted them with instruments to track their locations.  The devices, which are about the size of a Blackberry, are attached to a radio transmitter that emits signals when the narwhals surface.  So far, 7 of the 9 transmitters are still functional, and they are allowing scientists to track the whales’ paths as they make their way out of Tremblay Sound and into the Baffin Bay.

The hope is that information gleaned from this small sample will provide more information about the estimated 50,000-80,000 narwhals alive today and will allow government and environmental agencies to better protect them.  WWF is posting the locations on a map that can be viewed on their site.

For all the latest science news, check out National Geographic Library’s twice-weekly news rundown, EarthCurrent.


  1. Gilly McNaughton
    Northwest Territories
    November 10, 2011, 1:45 pm

    Its not a tusk that grows from the center of their forehead, its an incisor from their upper left jaw 🙂

  2. […] Scientists Making Efforts to Track Mythical Narwhals […]

  3. anarchic teapot
    November 9, 2011, 9:30 am

    Dragons are mythical. Unicorns are mythical. The Loch Ness Monster is mythical.

    Narwhals exist.

    I wish people wouldn’t misuse words like this. it takes all the punch out of them, leaving them limp, faded and completely without flavour

  4. hmm
    a whaling ship...
    November 9, 2011, 12:04 am

    so, whalers can go online and find out where these whales are swimming?

    that’s a good plan