Tusk anomalies in narwhals (Monodon monoceros) from Greenland

  • Eva Garde Department of Birds and Mammals, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Nuuk, Greenland
  • Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen Department of Birds and Mammals, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Nuuk, Greenland
Keywords: Arctic, cetacean, marine mammal, teeth, dentition, Inuit narwhal hunt


The elongated, spiraled tusk of male narwhals (Monodon monoceros) grows continuously throughout the life of the whale and is most likely a secondary sexual trait used in male–male hierarchical competition and possibly in female mate choice. Sex determination in narwhals is typically based on the presence (male) or absence (female) of an erupted tusk, but anomalies such as females with tusks, tuskless males or double-tusked whales occur, although infrequently. In this study, we collected reproductive data and recorded the presence or absence of a tusk in narwhals from the Inuit hunt in Greenland (1993 and 2010–19) with the purpose of estimating the frequency of tusk anomalies. We found that of the 173 whales, 2.9% displayed tusk anomalies. Tusked females constituted 1.5% of sampled females, tuskless males 2.8% of sampled males and double-tusked males 0.9% of sampled males. Biological information on a tusked female, a tuskless male and a double-tusked male was collected and is presented here. The tusked female was sexually mature, and 18 ovarian scars (indicating pregnancies) documented a long reproductive lifespan. The complete female tusk was estimated to be between 146 and 151 cm in length. The tuskless male was sexually maturing, as indicated by body dimensions, and the double-tusked male was sexually immature, with the two tusks measuring <90 cm in length. Although narwhals exhibit extremely low levels of genetic diversity, tusk anomalies persist in the populations, perhaps facilitated by the reproductive ability of whales with tusk anomalies.


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How to Cite
Garde E., & Heide-Jørgensen M. P. (2022). Tusk anomalies in narwhals (<em>Monodon monoceros</em&gt;) from Greenland. Polar Research, 41. https://doi.org/10.33265/polar.v41.8343
Research Articles