nar·​whal | \ ˈnär-ˌ(h)wäl How to pronounce narwhal (audio) , -wəl \
variants: or less commonly narwhale \ ˈnär-​ˌwāl How to pronounce narwhal (audio) , -​ˌ(h)wāl \

Definition of narwhal

: an arctic cetacean (Monodon monoceros) that reaches a length of about 16 feet (5 meters) and possesses in the male one or rarely two long, spirally twisted, pointed tusks

Note: Although the narwhal is classified as a toothed whale (suborder Odontoceti), it does not possess any teeth in its mouth.

Illustration of narwhal

Illustration of narwhal

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Did You Know?

The narwhal is a toothed whale found throughout arctic waters. Its Latin binomial, Monodon monoceros, is derived from the Greek words for "single-toothed" and "single-horned." Its English name (also sometimes spelled narwhale) comes from the Norwegian and Danish narvhal and the Swedish narval, words which are probably a modification of the Icelandic nárhvalur, which comes from the Old Norse nāhvalr. In Old Norse hvalr means "whale" and is akin to the Old English hwæl, the ancestor of the Modern English whale. The first element of nāhvalr is believed to be nār, the Old Norse word for "corpse," from the resemblance of the animal's color to that of a human corpse.

Examples of narwhal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Rattray’s new product, the Narwall, aims to provide more comfort and protection than typical face shields and masks (it was named after the narwhal and its whimsical, protruding tusk). Hallie Miller,, "Baltimore-based entrepreneur designs full-face respirator mask designed for high-risk coronavirus settings," 17 Nov. 2020 The scientists are anxious to see whether the virus can live in the Arctic waters and will test their ideas by collecting tissue samples from the narwhal and placing them in liquid nitrogen to be analyzed. Chris Ciaccia, Fox News, "Whales and other wildlife species could get COVID-19: 'Potential cascading impacts' around the world," 19 Oct. 2020 The one species, the narwhal, is an Arctic whale known for its huge nine-foot tusk. Doyle Rice, USA TODAY, "Could COVID-19 spread to wildlife in the Arctic?," 14 Oct. 2020 The researchers examined the measurements of 245 male narwhals living in waters off Greenland over the course of 35 years. Katie Hunt, CNN, "Here's how the 'unicorns of the sea' got their tusks," 18 Mar. 2020 Little was known about the tusk's function because narwhals spend most of their lives hidden underneath the Arctic ice. Katie Hunt, CNN, "Here's how the 'unicorns of the sea' got their tusks," 18 Mar. 2020 Amateur video of Friday’s London attack, showed at least three people wrestling with the assailant before police arrived, one wielding the tusk of a narwhal, a white Arctic sea mammal with a single horn. Washington Post, "London Bridge attacker had previous terrorism conviction, police say," 30 Nov. 2019 The narwhal is a year-round Arctic resident, summering in ice-free coastal waters. National Geographic, "Penguins don't live at the South Pole, and more polar myths debunked," 3 Feb. 2020 In the mix there was a giant hermit crab, a polar bear taking a selfie next to a narwhal, a mushroom cap, Mr. Potato Head, Snoopy and an octopus emerging from the pages of an open book and gripping its tentacles around a submarine. Tess Williams, Anchorage Daily News, "Snow sculptures transform Ship Creek into a winter wonderland," 2 Mar. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'narwhal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of narwhal

1646, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for narwhal

Norwegian & Danish narhval & Swedish narval, probably modification of Icelandic nárhvalur, from Old Norse nāhvalr, from nār corpse + hvalr whale; from its color

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Time Traveler

The first known use of narwhal was in 1646

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Cite this Entry

“Narwhal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for narwhal


nar·​whal | \ ˈnär-ˌhwäl How to pronounce narwhal (audio) , -ˌwäl \

Kids Definition of narwhal

: an arctic marine animal that is related to dolphins and whales and in the male has a long twisted ivory tusk

More from Merriam-Webster on narwhal

Nglish: Translation of narwhal for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about narwhal

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