Book club: ‘Narwhals’ by Todd McLeish

‘A broad view of the narwhal’s history and legend, remaining awestruck and deeply concerned for a species that remains a miraculous creation’ – Booklist.

Narwhals surface in between the sea ice in Greenland

Narwhals are one of the most unique and mysterious of all the cetaceans. They spend their lives hidden in one of the few environments still unconquered by man. This makes them extremely hard to study and understand, and the few things we have learned about them have only raised more questions than answers. In his 2014 book ‘Narwhals: Arctic whales in a melting world’ author Todd McLeish explores the lives of these elusive cetaceans and their relationship with humanity which can be both culturally significant and destructive.

What makes this book such an entertaining read is the way McLeish uses his own personal experiences to introduce each new piece of information he delivers. Having spent time with Narwhal researchers, enthusiasts and hunters across the Arctic he uses his first hand experiences to paint a picture of these enigmatic creatures in their natural habitat. His various conversations with the Narwhal experts also sheds light on various mysteries still surrounding the whales, including population sizes, feeding behaviour, age and of course their famous tusks (or should I say teeth).

A male narwhal shows off its famous spiralled tusk, which is actually a tooth

Yet at the heart of this book lies a very human story as McLeish examines the relationship between Narwhals and the indigenous communities that have hunted them for generations. Talking to those who rely on Narwhals for subsistence and income, as well as the researchers who rely on hunters to gather vital information on the elusive creatures, he shows that this complex relationship can benefit both parties.

However, it is also our influence on the planet which is putting the Narwhals future at risk. Increased melting and unpredictability of sea ice due to climate change threatens their way of life. What we have learnt about them suggests that they rely heavily on their changing environment and may not be able to adapt quick enough. But rather than dwell in the doom and gloom of the situation and condemn the narwhals to an imminent extinction, he instead marvels on how they ever came to be in the first place and asserts that these weird whales still have ever chance of survival.

A group of narwhals make the most of melting ice

Overall this book provides a fun and insightful account of one of our oceans most brilliant and bizarre creatures. If you have ever wanted to know more about Narwhals, then this is the book for you.


This review is the eleventh in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.

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