nar·​whal ˈnär-ˌ(h)wäl How to pronounce narwhal (audio)
variants or less commonly narwhale
ˈnär-ˌwāl How to pronounce narwhal (audio)
: 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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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 An extended version of the ad also features a talking narwhal. Rachel Strugatz, New York Times, 7 Feb. 2024 Couples weaved arm-in-arm between teens in Canadiens hockey jerseys; projections of narwhals and tortoises swam beneath their skates. Jen Rose Smith, WSJ, 11 Dec. 2023 The ocean is habitat for narwhal, beluga, and bowhead whales. Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor, 11 Dec. 2023 Sitting on shelves are skulls of exotic narwhals, each with its single long, twisted tusk; dolphin skulls and skeletons are scattered everywhere; and hundreds of other bones fill row after row of wooden and metal cabinets. Kathy A Svitil, Discover Magazine, 11 Nov. 2019 The man gave them three kilos, worth about $100, from a narwhal that was being shared by several families. Fran Golden, Travel + Leisure, 15 Sep. 2023 Marine biologists described the strange attractor of narwhals’ apparent diurnal chaos. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 21 Dec. 2022 To some, this is definitive proof that Bigfoot is as real as mountain gorillas or narwhals. Matt Blitz, Popular Mechanics, 14 Mar. 2023 But a batch of studies published in Science on Thursday has cast a bright light into the dark recesses of the human genome by comparing it with those of 239 other mammals, including narwhals, cheetahs and screaming hairy armadillos. Carl Zimmer, New York Times, 27 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'narwhal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1646, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of narwhal was in 1646


Dictionary Entries Near narwhal

Cite this Entry

“Narwhal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


nar·​whal ˈnär-ˌwäl How to pronounce narwhal (audio)
: an arctic sea mammal that is about 20 feet (six meters) long, is related to the dolphins and whales and in the male has a long twisted ivory tusk

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