Ecological Niche

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Narwhals are amid the strangest and most resilient animals in the Arctic. In fact, many people do not believe narwhals exist. A narwhal has the body of a dolphin/whale hybrid, and the “horn” of the fictitious unicorn. This “horn,” which is a tooth, adds to the tales of fantasy surrounding the Narwhal and its origins.

Narwhals live, hunt, and reproduce underwater, where they swim in search of prey in pods. Each pod ranges from 2-3 narwhals to several hundred narwhals. Narwhals spend their days in their wintering grounds diving. Narwhals typically dive to at least 800 meters between 18 and 25 times per day every day for 6 months. Many of these dives go  deeper than 800 meters, many reaching over 1,500 meters (4,500 feet). Dives to these depths last around 25 minutes, including the time spent at the bottom and the transit down and back from the surface.

A Pod Of Narwhals Mid-Dive

These majestic, seemingly fictitious creatures are, in fact, very real. They are endothermic, mammal, heterotrophs. Narwhals have a very limited, carnivorous diet, that changes throughout the year. In the winter, narwhals feed solely on Greenland halibut or Gonatus squid. Greenland halibut are flatfish found on the bottom of the sea, requiring long dives to be found. During the summer, ice-free season, narwhals eat very little and have nearly empty stomachs.

Narwhals are tertiary consumers, with increasing competition for food. Global Warming is not only reducing the populations of the Greenland halibut and Gonatus squid, but driving whales (including killer whales–one of the few natural predators of narwhals) towards Baffin Bay. This is severely damaging the Narwhal population, which, due to the harsh environment in which the species lives, was already diminishing. Narwhals are generally perceived as predators in relation to smaller consumers; however, they fall prey to killer whales, as well as humans and occasionally polar bears when they rise to the surface for air and rest.

A Narwhal Bursting Through The Water For Air

Narwhals live and sleep in the ocean and do not hibernate. They are neither nocturnal nor diurnal. In fact, narwhals do not care whether it is bright or not when they are awake. Due to their sonar, narwhals, as well as many other species of whales and dolphins, rely mainly on their hearing rather than sight. Therefore, narwhals tend to sleep only when tired, and do not have a set “schedule” for their waking hours.

Narwhals are highly dependent on the populations of the Greenland halibut and Gonatus squid thriving, as these species are their only source of food. Together, narwhals and the Greenland halibut and Gonatus squid form a predator-prey relationship that allows the Narwhal to flourish. Another predator-prey relationship that the Narwhal is associated with is with the killer whale. The killer whale is one of the only predators to narwhals, and help to keep the population in balance.

A Killer Whale, One Of The Narwhal’s Only Predators

Narwhals reach sexual maturity between the ages of 6-9 years. On average, females give birth to a calf every third year. The breeding period of narwhals occurs in early spring—between March and April—in the confines of the dense ice of their wintering grounds. The gestation period is about 14 months and they give birth to one offspring in late spring—between May and June—during their migration to their summering grounds. The narwhal’s mating rituals are unknown; however, some scientists speculate that the “horn” on male narwhals has the sole purpose of being used in mating rituals, as recent studies have proven “that the bigger the tusks, the better the testes, pretty much—tusk length and teste mass (which indicates fertility) were closely related” (http://time.com/3419809/narwhal-tusks-fertility/).

Narwhals, being mammals, require feeding from their mothers at birth. Narwhals then proceed to live with their parents for approximately 6 months to a year. The average life span of a narwhal is 50 years. During this life span, narwhals are rarely alone because they travel in pods of two to several hundred.

A Narwhal Pod

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9 responses to “Ecological Niche

  1. Jacob, you have great information on this page. Double check for typos and grammatical errors, and you may want to admire photos in between paragraphs to break up the text for the viewer of your site. The new map on the habitat-range page is much better, but you will have to change the video – especially if it is marked private. Find a video that can open directly on your page, or don’t use a video if you cannot find one. You earned 21/25 points on Checkpoint #2

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  2. Jake, there is a lot of great info on this page and your entire website! However, you should break up your long paragraphs with a photo or something. Other than that small fix, your website is fantastic!

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  3. Your website looks great! I suggest that you should shorten your long paragraphs.

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  4. Your page is fine and full of great information. Please excuse the kindergartners.

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  5. how do the narwhals Fight, or do the flee?

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  6. Thank you for such an interesting site…I am researching narwhals for a special project for my students. Could you tell me if the females are able to give birth throughout their life or is there a cut-off age like (female humans)?

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    • Hey there! Thank you so much for the feedback! Narwhals are a mysterious bunch, there’s a lot that scientists don’t yet know about them. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly when female narwhals become infertile. What we do know, however, is the following, per the NOAA: “Female narwhals are old enough to reproduce after 5 years, males after 8 years. Most narwhal females conceive in mid-April. Calves are born in mid-July in the following year (after a 15 month gestation period). Female narwhals usually give birth every three years.” Best of luck with your special project, Talitha! Make sure to share the site with your students, and let everybody know about this beautiful creature!!
      -Jacob Dahan

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