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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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 It is currently not known if the narwhal can understand beluga vocalizations, per CBC. Elizabeth Gamillo, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Mar. 2022 Researchers suspect breeding is a possibility because of how bonded the narwhal is to the pod of belugas. Elizabeth Gamillo, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Mar. 2022 Finally, private citizens can play a role in protecting the narwhal when visiting the Arctic. Ashley Stimpson, Popular Mechanics, 7 Jan. 2022 All of this traffic has made the narwhal’s world a much louder one. Ashley Stimpson, Popular Mechanics, 7 Jan. 2022 The misshapen right pectoral fin and scars on the mottled many-shades-of-gray skin of one narwhal looked familiar. Marguerite Holloway, The New Yorker, 31 Aug. 2021 Nothing similar exists for the narwhal, a species that may prove to be even more vulnerable to climate change than the iconic polar bear. Marguerite Holloway, The New Yorker, 31 Aug. 2021 The results indicate where and what a narwhal might have eaten, as well as its exposure to mercury—a potent toxin whose accumulation affects animals' immune and reproductive systems. Susan Cosier, Scientific American, 21 June 2021 Since a narwhal’s tusk, which is actually a specialized tooth, grows in annual layers like the rings of a tree trunk, researchers can study the layers to look back in time, reports Matt Simon for Wired. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, 5 Apr. 2021 See More

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.

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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The first known use of narwhal was in 1646

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Last Updated

26 Mar 2022

Cite this Entry

“Narwhal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2022.

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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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