The white whale family contains two unusual species. One is the tusked narwhal , also known as the 'unicorn of the sea'. The other is the beluga whale, also called the 'sea canary' because of its trilling song. White whales inhabit Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, from coastal regions and estuaries to seas covered in pack ice. They travel in schools or pods that can number hundreds of individuals, or even thousands in the case of belugas. Both of these whale species are bottom feeders. They consume a variety of fish, molluscs and small crustaceans. Narwhals and belugas have high foreheads, short or no snouts, no dorsal fins and reduced teeth. The beluga has simple peg-like teeth. The male narwhal has only two and one of those forms the males' tusk. The teeth of a female narwhal are embedded within its jaws.
Scientific name: Monodontidae
Beluga and narwhal
The following habitats are found across the White whales distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.
Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.
Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
The cetacean family Monodontidae comprises two unusual whale species, the narwhal, in which the male has a long tusk, and the white beluga whale. They are native to coastal regions and pack ice around the Arctic Sea, and the far north of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Both species are medium-sized whales, between three and five metres in length, with a forehead melon, and a short or absent snout. They do not have a true dorsal fin, but do have a narrow ridge running along the back, which is much more pronounced in the narwhal. They are highly vocal animals, communicating with a wide range of sounds. Like other whales, they also use echolocation to navigate.
Monodontids have a wide-ranging carnivorous diet, feeding on fish, molluscs, and small crustaceans. They have reduced teeth, with the beluga having numerous simple teeth, and the narwhal having only two teeth, one of which forms the tusks in males. Gestation lasts 14-15 months in both species, and almost always results in a single calf. The young are not weaned for a full two years, and do not reach sexual maturity until they are five to eight years of age. Family groups travel as part of herds, or 'pods', which may contain several hundred individuals.
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