To see photographs of the Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus)
Whale (Balaena mysticetus)
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Taxonomic name: Balaena mysticetus
Other Common Names: Black Right Whale, Greenland Whale, Great Polar Whale, Greenland Right Whale.
Bowhead Whales are
part of the Balaenidae family of Right Whales. Mature females are larger
than males topping the scales at 75-100 tonnes and growing to 20 meters
though most do not exceed 18.5 meters. Calves are born at 3-4.5 meters
in spring or early summer.
is known of the Bowhead Whale due to is low numbers caused by past whaling
activity and their remote arctic feeding grounds. Bowheads are only found
in the northern hemisphere following the seasonal expansion and contraction
of sea ice where they feed on various types of zooplankton using a trawling
method, cruising along with the mouth open. They feed both in the open
and under the sea ice shelf staying submerged in shallow dives for 20-40
minutes. They have the longest baleen of any whale growing to 4 meters
Whales have no dorsal fin, no throat pleats, no barnacles and no callosities
or other obvious markings except for a large white to pale grey bib of
pigmentation on the chin, lower jaw and throat. The edge of this patch
may have a pattern of dark spots. They are generally black, even on the
underside of the tail, though some individuals may be brownish or dark
grey. Their most obvious feature when observed from above water is a raised
hump housing their twin blowholes. This enables the Bowhead to breath
through holes in the ice and at times is used to break thin ice to form
a breathing hole. They are often seen breathing from splits in the sea
ice or in polynyas (breaks in the sea ice found well in from the floe
edge). Their common name comes from the strongly arched mouth with the
lower jaw overlapping the curved upper lip. The head is about 1/3 of the
total body length.
are slow moving animals, as are all Right Whales, raising their broad,
black sculptured flukes prior to diving. They are sometimes seen to breach,
slap their pectoral fins or tail-lob but are usually not noted for their
surface activity. While they sometimes occur in large groups they are
usually solitary or in groups of three or four.
Bowhead Whales are considered endangered there still exists hunting activity
in the form of subsistence whaling among Inuit groups in northern Alaska.