Bowhead Whale



Bowhead Whale

Bowhead Whale: Photo by fruchtzwerg’s world on Flickr.

A descriptive name given on account of the many ways the head suggest “bows;” the profile of the head resembles the “bow of a boat,” the upper jaw is arched like an archer’s bow, and the baleen arches like a taught bow.

The baleen in the bowhead is the longest of the baleen whales with plates reaching 4 meters (15 feet). The bowhead has over 300 plates of baleen on each side of their head, so while they were hunted for oil, the baleen was also sought for many products until plastic became the rage – another case where ironically the petroleum industry had a hand in saving the whales.

This cousin of the Right Whale resides exclusively in the Arctic. They follow the advance and retreat of the lead ice and can break through 12” of ice, and are often accompanied by belugas.

The lifespan of most whales have been framed in the context of human longevity, despite the lack of any substantiating evidence. This was until a Bowhead was recently taken by subsistence hunters who found an ivory spear point lodged in its blubber of a type that had not been used for 200 years.

Latin Name:
Balaena mysticetus
AKA:
Length:
up to 20 m (66 ft)
Weight:
75 tonnes (74 long tons; 83 short tons) to 100 tonnes (98 long tons; 110 short tons)
Lifetime:
possibly over 200 years
Physical Traits:
enormous head, white chin, no dorsal fin, stocky, dark colored, no dorsal fin, longest baleen of any whale – 3 m (9.8 ft)
Behavior:
uses it’s thick, bony skull to break through ice, travels alone or in small groups, highly vocal
Habitat:
Along the lead edges of the arctic ice
Locations:
Arctic Ocean – Chukchi, Beaufort, Bering, Okhotsk, and North Seas
Food:
small crustaceans
Predators:
Orcas, Arctic “subsistence hunters”
Links:
Wikipedia: Bowhead Whale
Discovery of Sound in the Sea: Bowhead Whale
Arkive.org: Bowhead Whale
Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Bowhead Whale
Cetacea: Bowhead Whale
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bioacoustics Research Program: Bowhead Whale Vocalizations
National Marine Mammal Laboratory: Bowhead Whales
Literature:

Clark, C.W. and Johnson, J.H. 1984. The sounds of the bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, during the spring migrations of 1979 and 1980. Canadian Journal of Zoology 62: 1436-1441.Cummings, W.C. and Holliday, D.V. 1987. Sounds and source levels from bowhead whales off Pt. Barrow, Alaska. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 82(3): 814-821.Ko, D., Zeh, J.E., Clark, C.W., Ellison, W.T., Krogman, B.D. and Sonntag, R. 1986. Utilization of acoustic location data in determining a minimum number of spring-migrating bowhead whales unaccounted for by the ice-based visual census. Report of the International Whaling Commission 36: 325-338.

Ljungblad, D.K., Thompson, P.O. and Moore, S.E. 1982. Underwater sounds recorded from migrating bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, in 1979. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 71(2): 477-482.

Richardson, W.J., Green, C.R. Jr., Malme, C.I. and Thomson, D.H. 1995. Marine Mammals and Noise. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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