A narwhal is informally referred to as the sea unicorn because of its long tusk. So it has often been associated with symbols of magic, freedom and divinity. Below, we discuss the various meanings and symbolism of narwhals in different cultures and contexts.
What You'll Learn Today
What Is A Narwhal?
Narwhals are a type of whale that permanently live in the arctic waters of Russia, Greenland, Norway and Canada.
Narwhals are most notable for the long tusk extending from their heads. This has led people to dub them the unicorns of the sea.
Due to this association with unicorns, there’s a common misconception that narwhals are not real or have long gone extinct.
Narwhals are very much real and, even though they are classified as ‘near threatened’ by conservationists, they are still around in fairly large numbers.
Are Narwhals Magical?
As far as we know, narwhals do not possess any magical or divine powers. They have many interesting characteristics and features, but don’t have any special powers.
The idea that narwhals are magical likely comes from their resemblance to unicorns.
What Does A Narwhal Symbolize?
A lot of the narwhal symbolism comes from its association with unicorns. The long tusk makes these whales look like these mythical creatures.
In fact, medieval Europeans believed narwhal tusks to be unicorn horns and thus were regarded as highly precious items.
Because of its unicorn-like appearance, the narwhal has magical symbolism attached to it.
It symbolizes magical abilities (e.g. in stories, film or art) or a belief in the existence of magic.
Like a unicorn, a narwhal can also symbolize freedom, either the yearning of it or proclaiming it.
The Narwhal As A Symbol of Divinity
As an extension of the magical symbolism around the narwhal, many people also associate it with divinity and spiritualism.
The long spiral tusk pointing heavenwards represents a connection to the divine or the spiritual world.
This symbolism is also connected to the fact that narwhals use their tusk to sense their environment. With millions of nerve endings on the tusk, they can easily check the temperature, chemical makeup and other characteristics of the sea water.
By touching tusks with another narwhal, scientists theorize that they pass this information between each other.
Whether used in art, as a tattoo, or in a film, a narwhal can symbolize this deep sense of spirituality and a connection to the divine.
The Narwhal is a Symbol of Spiritual and Physical Sustenance
Many communities like the Inuit who live around Narwhal habitats depend heavily on the Narwhal for food. They eat virtually all parts of the animal including the skin, fat, meat and organs.
For these communities, the Narwhal is a symbol of life and sustenance. The animal is so revered that two narwhals are featured on the original coat of arms of the Northwest Territories.
A narwhal also features on the Nunavut coat of arms.
Symbolically, the narwhal is a representation of someone, something or a belief that brings peace, hope, and spiritual fulfillment.
Mysterious and Reclusive
The narwhal is one of the most reclusive creatures of the ocean, so scientists don’t know much about it.
It’s the reason that they are not sure what the narwhal’s tusk is for.
Similar to a unicorn, there is so much mystery surrounding narwhals. So much so that the misconception that they are not real has spread widely.
There’s also a false belief that they have magical powers.
Someone who has the narwhal as their spirit animal probably displays the same characteristics. They don’t interact much with people beyond a tightly knit circle of friends and family.
To everyone else, they might appear mysterious.
Despite their large size and aggressive looking tusks, narwhals are actually very gentle. They don’t attack humans and will actually dive under when disturbed.
Narwhals also don’t display any aggressiveness towards each other. Scientists used to think they use their tusks to fight, but that was later disproved.
Basically, they are big swimming gentle giants. They only get aggressive when hunting prey.
If you know someone who is a gentle giant – big physically but calm and gentle with people and animals – the narwhal is a great symbol for their character.
The narwhal can also represent someone or an entity who uses their great power for good. Instead of hurting others, they provide sustenance in one way or another. It can be financial, spiritual, nutritional and so on.
Other Narwhals Symbolisms and Meanings
- Most narwhals die because they get stuck under frozen ice. They fail to come up for air before the arctic water freezes. This vulnerability to their environment symbolizes getting stuck or suffocated by life, those around us, or problems.
- Despite this vulnerability, narwhals display extreme resilience and physical capabilities. They can dive up to 800 meters under the water surface, deeper than many other marine mammals. This ability symbolizes a desire to go further and work harder to achieve what you want in life. It can be risky, but the rewards are great.
- Depending on the context and culture, narwhals can also symbolize the truth, wisdom, heightened senses, family, and community.
- A narwhal can also symbolize people who prefer settling in one place and thriving wherever they are. Unlike many marine mammals, they do not migrate. The longest they travel is from the bay to the ocean when summer comes and the ice thaws.
- Because of its ability to sense its environment and communicate with other narwhals, this mammal sometimes symbolizes a deep connection and empathy with whatever life is around you – be it plants, pets, or people.
What Does A Narwhal Tattoo Symbolize?
A narwhal tattoo can have any of the meanings we’ve discussed above.
Most people who get a narwhal tattoo do it to symbolize magic or spirituality. A narwhal tattoo can also indicate freedom, independence, and divine connection.
You can also get a narwhal tattoo to indicate personality traits of gentleness, peace, mysterious, and reclusiveness.
Some people get a narwhal tattoo simply because they love the sea, and the narwhal is one of the most interesting marine creatures.
That’s it! Did you like it? If you did, please leave a comment below. And if you would like to learn more about other animals’ symbolisms, here is one about geckos and their spiritual meaning.