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Why Narwhal Are So Elusive & How To See Them

June 23, 2021

It is fitting that a whale as elusive as the narwhal are surrounded with myths and mysteries. Scientists still don’t fully understand why narwhal have their famous tusk, yet this ivory tooth may have been the origins of the fabled unicorn.

This beautiful whale has never survived in captivity so you can only see them in the wild. Their northern home has kept them away from most people and their affinity for ice can keep them hidden.

Join us as we dive into what makes narwhal so elusive and an incredible chance to see them in person!


Their Migration Revolves Around Ice

One of the main focuses for narwhal is sea-ice. It helps them hide from predators but also dictates when narwhal begin their migration.

Narwhals spend their entire lives in the Arctic and a majority of the world’s population winter in Baffin Bay. Here, they spend the season below a surface that is 95% frozen sea-ice or ice floes.

As the ice begins to crack and spring starts to emerge, this is when pods of narwhals will start towards their favourite summer feeding grounds.

The migrations follow the receding ice across the Arctic and about 75% of all narwhals will travel into the Canadian Arctic Archipelagos.

Their migration is more complicated than just reaching the Arctic islands, they have to find their way through a labyrinth of ice. It is often still too frozen for them to precede until a crack forms leading them through a channel. Multiple pods of whales may even join up as they wait for an opening in the ice.

Here, you can find pods socializing in large numbers as they bob on the waves or splash together. These shared moments are often when you can see males caress their tusks together.

There is an impatient energy sometimes as they dive for fish and burst above the surface of the water.

Dozens may share a small opening in the ice as they take breathes and probe for directional clues.

Once the ice completely recedes, they are able to reach the shallow estuaries that they spend their summers among.




Their Migration Stays In The Arctic

While most whales travel north and south for their annual migrations, like humpbacks travelling up California’s coast, narwhals migrate west and east. This can make it harder for the average traveller to see narwhals unless they live in the Arctic.

Some whales like orcas can be found on most boat tours because of their wide distribution, but narwhal tours are more exclusive.

The elusive nature of the narwhal means you simply will never forget seeing your first tusk surge from the water with a graceful rapture.


How You Can See Narwhal

Since this whale only lives in the wild, you’ll have to travel to them for the chance to see the ‘unicorn of the sea’.

Our small group tours bring you right up to where the action is with uninterrupted viewing and photography opportunities.

We use land-based because it means we travel by snowmobiles and don’t scare away narwhals from using motorboats. So, when the whales arrive you’ll have the most exceptional moments with narwhal possible.

Since narwhal follow the edge of the sea ice, we take you right to the water’s edge so you can take advantage of the solid ice platform. The ice no longer is keeping narwhal away but allow us to bring you to them.

If you are tired of only seeing narwhal in documentaries than explore our Narwhal & Polar Bear, A Floe Edge Safari.

Find out why this unforgettable trip is the best way to see one of the most elusive animals in the world.


Experience The Arctic On A Safari

Get chances to view elusive Arctic wildlife and experience the majesty of the Arctic on safaris almost year-round. View all Arctic Safaris here.

Ready for adventure? Contact our Arctic Travel Advisors to book.

Are you still curious about the many wonders of the Arctic or looking for more interesting content then explore more blogs here!



By: Mat Whitelaw