nar·​whal | \ ˈnär-ˌwäl How to pronounce narwhal (audio) , -ˌhwäl, -wəl \
variants: or less commonly narwhale \ ˈnär-​ˌwāl How to pronounce narwhale (audio) , -​ˌhwāl \

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 But female narwhals and belugas are similar in size and shape, and could easily be mistaken for one another. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "This Bizarre Whale Is a Beluga-Narwhal Hybrid," 20 June 2019 Or that people, for centuries, thought that narwhal tusks were unicorn horns, and that they were imbued with medicinal powers? Megan Gambino, Smithsonian, "The Ten Best Children’s Books of 2019," 7 Dec. 2019 The attack began by Fishmongers’ Hall, a historic building and events space on the London Bridge replete with famed fishing artifacts, two massive narwhal tusks included., "The simple, heroic act in a way embodied the ancient lore of the large-than-life tusk.," 1 Dec. 2019 The attack began by Fishmongers' Hall, a historic building and events space on the London Bridge replete with famed fishing artifacts, two massive narwhal tusks included. Author: Miriam Berger, Anchorage Daily News, "The narwhal tusk has a wondrous and mystical history. A new chapter was added on London Bridge.," 30 Nov. 2019 These two areas of persistent (for now) sea ice may be the final northern realms where wildlife largely dependent on sea ice for survival, such as polar bears, walrus, and narwhals, can hold out in a warming world, the scientists say. Sid Perkins, Science | AAAS, "Watch the Arctic’s sea ice slowly disappear," 12 Nov. 2019 One appeared to charge at him with the antique tusk of a narwhal — a type of whale — while another sprayed him with a fire extinguisher before knocking him down. NBC News, "U.K. hails bystanders who intervened to stop London Bridge stabbing attack," 30 Nov. 2019 Environmentalists say guarding this region from industrial activity will be a refuge for walruses, polar bears, seals, and narwhals as the Arctic ice becomes increasingly unstable. Sarah Gibbens, National Geographic, "Pristine Arctic reserves will benefit wildlife and Inuit communities," 1 Aug. 2019 Belugas and narwhals, for example, are opportunistic feeders that can eat a large variety of fish and crustaceans. Christian Åslund, National Geographic, "Melting ice may be a boon for some Arctic whales—then a bust," 2 July 2019

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 for narwhal

Time Traveler

The first known use of narwhal was in 1646

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Last Updated

21 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Narwhal.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 21 January 2020.

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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

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More from Merriam-Webster on narwhal

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with narwhal

Spanish Central: Translation of narwhal

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

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