Adventurers are drawn to remote areas of the planet for the sheer possibility of seeing wildlife frolicking in their natural habitats. People are fascinated by wild animals, and they love to witness the lives of wildlife species as they roam rugged terrains, hunt for their daily meals and, in the case of sea creatures, play in the water with pods of family and friends.
Among the most impressive sea animals is the narwhal, which the World Wildlife Organization has dubbed “the unicorns of the sea.” Narwhals are large, beautiful whales with long tusks that protrude forward from their heads, providing both a natural defensiveness as well as an invaluable tool for hunting for prey.
Narwhal whales are most commonly found throughout the Arctic Circle, primarily near Greenland, as well as Canada and Russia, to a lesser extent. It’s why some northern expeditions have been dubbed the Greenland Narwhal Tour as voyagers travel across the northern seas in search of pods of narwhal to capture on camera and hold in high regard in their memories.
The fact that narwhals are elusive and rarely spotted has earned them the moniker, "the unicorns of the seas." But if you are intent
on seeing narwhals, your best opportunity will be on an Arctic expedition. Photo: AdobeStock
Where are narwhals found?
The Essential Greenland: Southern Coasts and Disko Bay itinerary takes adventurers on a bold exploration around the southern and western shores of Greenland. While not officially known as such, some travelers have a tendency to refer to it as the Greenland Narwhal Tour as the route explores the coast as far north as Ilulissat, home to the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where narwhals are sighted.
In addition to exploring the majesty of the landscape on the main island, you’ll also explore the waters around Disko Island off the west coast of Greenland. It’s in areas around Disko Island that pods of narwhals have been observed playing in the water and hunting for food. If you’re lucky, you will come across a full pod of whales as they play on the surface and engage in their day to day routines.
However, there’s a reason narwhals are known as the “unicorns of the sea.” They’re very rare to spot, even around areas of Greenland and Baffin Island in Canada, which are two of the most likely locations where these whales make their homes. They’re very elusive mammals. As David Attenborough, host of Our Planet and a renowned natural historian, says: “Narwhals are extremely timid and rarely filmed underwater.”
Interesting facts about narwhals
While not the largest whales in the sea, narwhals are still massive mammals. The average whale weighs approximately 1600 kg with a body span reaching as long as 5.5 metres. One of the most interesting facts about narwhals is that their neck vertebrae are jointed, resembling other mammals in the ocean. Vertebrae on other whales and dolphins, on the other hand, are fused together, making Narwhals biologically distinct from their cousins in the whale family.
Narwhals also have an impressively long lifespan. They can survive for up to 50 years and spend most of their time swimming through the Arctic Ocean. In the coldest months of winter, they tend to migrate to smaller bays where the water remains warmer throughout the frigid times of year.
The average narwhal weighs approximately 1,600 kilograms with a body span that can reach 5.5 metres.
Are narwhals endangered animals?
The questions often arise: Are narwhals endangered animals? And, if so, why are narwhals endangered? In fact, narwhals are technically not on the list of endangered animals. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which rates a species’ risk of extinction, has deemed the narwhals as “near threatened.”
The IUCN cites climate change and human behavior as the greatest risks for the future of narwhals. The effects of climate change are well documented; rising ocean temperatures and melting ice caps could cause predatory animals like orcas to migrate into traditional narwhal habitats. If orcas and other predators start praying more aggressively on narwhals, it risks the collective future of the species.
Similarly, human behavior has largely contributed to the Narwhals becoming near threatened. Narwhals are hunted by Indigenous people in both Greenland and Canada as their skins are used to protect against the harsh elements. Narwhals have been caught in the paths of aggressive whalers as well, contributing to a decline in the overall population.
Greenland whale watching season
Whale-watching season in Greenland typically begins in July and lasts throughout the summer months. That’s why the Greenland Adventure: Explore by Sea, Island, and Air itinerary is an excellent voyage to book at the height of whale-watching season.
You’ll begin in Reykjavik, Iceland, and take a private charter flight to Narsarsuaq, Greenland, where you’ll board the ship and prepare to set sail. Over nine days, you’ll travel throughout the southern tip of Greenland and explore some of the most memorable landmarks on the island, including Tasermiut Fjord and Lindenow Fjord.
Most importantly, you join a Zodiac tour to explore and get great views of icebergs, seabirds, and whales. Admittedly, the narwhal whale can be elusive. However, you have good chances of seeing humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, blue whales and, to a lesser extent, orcas and beluga whales. The diversity in whale species surrounding Greenland makes Arctic polar voyages popular.
What to bring on a whale watching trip
Since you’ll be aboard a sturdy polar vessel equipped with Zodiacs, you just need to bring your own personal supplies.
Given that the sun reflects strongly off the polar ice caps, sunglasses should be right at the top of your checklist of items to bring. Additionally, you should also make sure you have:
- A hat to cover your head
- Binoculars (some may be supplied but it helps to have a pair of your own)
- Camera (or your phone)
- An open mind!
Greenland Narwhal Tour
If a Greenland narwhal tour is on your bucket list, there’s no shortage of opportunities to experience a polar adventure and potentially see a family of beautiful whales. Additionally, you can explore the rugged land of Greenland itself on the Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland voyage.
The best part of this trip is that you get to explore two of the most unspoiled lands in all of the world—plus a perfect opportunity to witness the magic of nature in all its glory. You can hike across both islands and even take part in a polar plunge. An Arctic expedition is unlike any other journey!