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Narwhale vs. Narwhal: What's the Difference?

By Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 20, 2024
Narwhale and narwhal refer to the same Arctic whale species, with "narwhal" being the more commonly accepted spelling, whereas "narwhale" is a less frequent variant.

Key Differences

Narwhale and narwhal refer to the same marine mammal species known for their long, spiral tusk. Narwhal is the more widely accepted and commonly used spelling in scientific literature and general usage, while narwhale is a less frequent variant.
Narwhal, the term most often encountered in modern texts, is preferred by scientists, researchers, and authoritative sources. Narwhale, on the other hand, appears occasionally and is considered an alternative spelling but is less standardized.
Narwhal is derived from the Old Norse word "nar," meaning "corpse," and "hvalr," meaning "whale," which together mean "corpse whale," likely referring to the animal's pale, mottled coloration. Narwhale also carries the same etymological roots but is not as prevalently used.
The spelling narwhal is favored in contemporary dictionaries and academic contexts. Whereas narwhale might be found in older texts or less formal contexts, it is not typically used in scientific descriptions or publications.

Comparison Chart

Common Usage

Less frequent variant
More commonly accepted spelling

Scientific Literature

Rarely used
Widely used


Derived from Old Norse "nar" + "hvalr"
Same as narwhale

Dictionary Inclusion

Less commonly included
Commonly included

Modern Preference

Not preferred

Narwhale and Narwhal Definitions


A term used to describe the same Arctic cetacean.
Narwhale sightings are rare in this region.


An Arctic whale species known for its long, spiral tusk.
The narwhal is often called the unicorn of the sea.


A less common variant spelling of narwhal.
Historical texts sometimes refer to the narwhale.


Known scientifically as Monodon monoceros.
Narwhal tusks can grow up to ten feet long.


Another name for the narwhal.
Conservation efforts focus on protecting the narwhale.


A cetacean found in Arctic waters.
Narwhal populations are impacted by climate change.


An alternative spelling of narwhal.
The narwhale is known for its long tusk.


The more commonly accepted spelling of narwhale.
Researchers studied the narwhal's tusk in detail.


Refers to the same species, Monodon monoceros.
The narwhale, or narwhal, inhabits Arctic waters.


Derived from Old Norse, meaning "corpse whale."
The name narwhal refers to the whale's pale color.


An Arctic whale (Monodon monoceros) having mottled gray or whitish skin and in the male, a long spirally twisted tusk projecting forward from the left side of the head.


An Arctic whale (Monodon monoceros) having mottled gray or whitish skin and in the male, a long spirally twisted tusk projecting forward from the left side of the head.


Alternative spelling of narwhal


Monodon monoceros, an Arctic cetacean that grows to about 20 feet (6 meters) long, the male having a single horn-like tusk, a twisted, pointed canine tooth that projects forward.


Small arctic whale the male having a long spiral ivory tusk


An arctic cetacean (Monodon monocerous), about twenty feet long. The male usually has one long, twisted, pointed canine tooth, or tusk, projecting forward from the upper jaw like a horn, whence it is called also sea unicorn, unicorn fish, and unicorn whale. Sometimes two horns are developed, side by side.


Small arctic whale the male having a long spiral ivory tusk


Why is narwhal the preferred spelling?

Narwhal is the standardized spelling used in scientific literature and common usage.

Is narwhale used in any official contexts?

Narwhale is rarely used in official contexts and is considered an alternative, less common spelling.

Are narwhale and narwhal the same animal?

Yes, they both refer to the same Arctic whale species, Monodon monoceros.

What is the main difference between narwhale and narwhal?

The primary difference is that "narwhal" is the more commonly accepted spelling, while "narwhale" is a less frequent variant.

Is there a difference in pronunciation between narwhale and narwhal?

Both are pronounced the same way: /ˈnɑːr.wəl/.

Do scientific papers use narwhale?

Scientific papers and research typically use narwhal.

Do dictionaries recognize both spellings?

Most modern dictionaries recognize narwhal as the primary spelling; narwhale may not be included or may be listed as a variant.

Where did the term narwhal originate?

Narwhal originated from the Old Norse words "nar" (corpse) and "hvalr" (whale), describing the whale's pale appearance.

Which spelling is more common in educational materials?

Narwhal is more common in educational materials.

Does narwhale appear in academic contexts?

Narwhale is rarely used in academic contexts; narwhal is preferred.

Is there any biological difference implied by the two spellings?

No, both spellings refer to the same species without any biological differences.

Has narwhale ever been the preferred spelling?

It may have been more accepted in the past, but narwhal is now the preferred spelling.

Can I use narwhale in my writing?

While you can use narwhale, it is recommended to use narwhal for clarity and consistency.

Is narwhale an outdated spelling?

Narwhale is less commonly used today and can be considered somewhat outdated.

Are there any regional preferences for using narwhale?

There are no significant regional preferences; narwhal is preferred globally.

Are there any cultural references that use narwhale?

Cultural references predominantly use narwhal.

Can I find narwhale in literature?

Narwhale might appear in some literature, but narwhal is more prevalent.

Do conservation efforts use one spelling over the other?

Conservation efforts use narwhal.

Is narwhale found in historical texts?

Yes, narwhale can be found in some historical texts and older literature.

Is narwhale recognized by major marine organizations?

Major marine organizations recognize narwhal as the correct spelling.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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