Narwhal: Events and Programs

We’re thrilled to bring you special programming in conjunction with our latest special exhibit, Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend!


Thursdays and Fridays in July and August, 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
  • Educator Carts: What exactly is growing out of a narwhal’s head, and what is it used for? Stop by to explore the differences between antlers, horns, tusks, and teeth as well as see what we know (and what we don’t know) about the narwhal’s very special headgear!


Whales, Dolphins, and Seals

Did you know marine mammals evolved from land mammals? Find out why they returned to the sea and what it takes to live under the ocean as a mammal on this FREE half-hour docent tour on the First and Third Floors.

Dates and Times
Saturdays, July 16 - October 1
11:00 a.m.


get curiousGet Curious

Arctic animals have evolved to survive in one of the most harsh and unforgiving environments on earth. If you visit the Museum, you may see our Get Curious sign on the Third Floor by the Arctic, encouraging visitors to make observations on the adaptations these animals rely on to survive the harsh conditions at the top of the world. 

Horns, antlers, and tusks often provide a way for animals to defend themselves, fighting off predators and rivals and as displays for attracting mates, though they can have other important uses as well. Caribou use their antlers to move snow away from plants that they rely on for food. A narwhal’s tusk is actually a tooth, and some scientists believe that narwhals use their tusks to sense changes in their environment. For example, the tusk may be able to sense salinity in the water, which helps them get information about ice formation. In this case, the higher salinity may mean more ice.

Scientists don’t know much about narwhals, largely because they are difficult to study: They live in remote places, far from civilization, in a habitat that is dark for half the year, covered in ice for the other half, and always challenging to access. During the winter months, for example, they feed in the deep waters between Baffin Island and Greenland north of the Arctic Circle.

There is, however, a wealth of traditional knowledge about them among native peoples who’ve spent thousands of years observing and hunting them in the wild, relying on them as an essential source of food, blubber, and raw materials. Their knowledge of narwhals has contributed extensively to the scientific study of this still-mysterious animal. Learn more about some of the ways in which the Inuit help science to fill in the gaps.

No other animal in the world has a tooth quite like the narwhal, and scientists are just beginning to truly understand how it functions. Check out this fascinating article to learn more.



science on tap logoSCIENCE ON TAP
"Narwhal” with William Fitzhugh, Director of Arctic Studies Center, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Thursday, September 22

This talk will present the fascinating story of the legendary narwhal and its mysterious tusk. Discover its biology and natural history, who its relatives are, its evolutionary history, and the function of its tusk. Though legendary to Europeans, the narwhal has been known to Inuit people for 4,000 years. Finally, learn how climate change is affecting narwhals and what is in store for their future.

Learn More

Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend was developed by the Smithsonian’s National
Museum of Natural History and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

Smithsonian Institution