The bowhead whale, also known as the Greenland right whale, is about 45-60 feet long and weighs 75-100 tons when full-grown. They have a stocky appearance.
Bowheads are mostly blue-black in coloration, but have white on their jaw and belly, and a patch on its tail stock (peduncle) that gets whiter with age. Bowheads also have stiff hairs on their jaws. Bowheads have broad, paddle-shaped, 6-foot long flippers and a huge, notched fluke (tail) that can be 25 feet across from tip to tip.
The bowhead's blubber layer is over 1 1/2 feet thick, which provides insulation against the cold waters of the Arctic.
A new organ was discovered in bowhead whales, and detailed in a study published in 2013. The roughly 12-foot long organ is on the roof of a bowhead whale's mouth and is made of a sponge-like tissue. The organ was discovered by scientists during the processing of a bowhead whale by natives. They think that it is used to regulate heat, and possibly for detecting prey and regulating baleen growth. Read more here.
Habitat & Distribution:
Bowheads have about 600 baleen plates that are up to 14 feet long, illustrating the immense size of the whale's head.
The bowhead's breeding season is in late spring/early summer. Once mating occurs, the gestation period is 13-14 months long, after which a calf is born. Calves are 11-18 feet long and 2,000 pounds in weight when born. The calf nurses for 9-12 months and isn't sexually mature until it is 20 years old.
The bowhead is considered one of the world's longest-living animals, with evidence showing some bowheads may live to over 200 years.
The bowhead whale is listed as species of least concern on the IUCN Red List, as the population is increasing. However, the population, currently estimated at 7,000-10,000 animals, is far lower than the estimated 35,000-50,000 whales that existed before they were decimated by commercial whaling. Only about 3,000 bowheads existed by the 1920's. Due to this depletion, it is still listed as endangered by the U.S.
- American Cetacean Society. Bowhead Whale Fact Sheet. Accessed June 25, 2010.
- International Whaling Commission. Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Catches Since 1985 (Online). Accessed June 25, 2010.
- NOAA. Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus). (Online) NOAA Fisheries: Office of Protected Resources. Accessed June 25, 2010.
- Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Balaena mysticetus. (Online) IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. . Accessed on 25 June 2010.
- Rozell, Ned. 2001. Bowhead Whales May Be the World's Oldest Mammals. (Online) Alaska Science Forum, February 15, 2001. Accessed June 25, 2010.