Bowhead Whale

Balaenidae: Right Whale Family

It is in the 3 species of right whale that the baleen apparatus is most extremely developed. Right whales have enormous heads, measuring more than a third of their total body length, and highly arched upper jaws to carry the long baleen plates. They have no throat grooves.

Regarded by whalers as the "right" whales to exploit, they have been killed in such numbers by commercial whalers over the last century that they are rare today.

Bowhead whales live in the Arctic Ocean, where they live among ice floes. One of the many amazing things about this giant animal is its immense life span. Ivory and stone harpoon heads from the 19th century have been found in living specimens. Analysis of the whale’s eye suggests that this species can live for 210 years, which makes it the longest-living mammal on Earth. However, hunting has made the bowhead whales one of the most endangered sea mammals. Biologists estimate that the population along the northern European coast is numbered in just the hundreds. Bowheads feed on tiny floating crustaceans, such as krill and copepods. They can eat 1.8 tonnes (4,000 lb) in one day.

The bowhead has a massive head and a body that tapers sharply toward the tail. Its jaws are strongly curved to accommodate the 16 ft (4.8 m) long baleen plates, the longest of any of the filterfeeding whales.

Bowhead whales, also known as Greenland right whales or Arctic whales, are among the largest animals in the world. They are named after the U-shape of the lower jaw, which is white. The rest of the body is black. The bowhead whale's mouth is the largest of any animal on Earth: it is large enough to swallow a van.

They mate in early spring, the gestation period is 10 to 12 months, and the calf is fed for almost a year. Occasionally twins are produced.

Distribution: Northern waters.

Habitat: Open ocean; cold water.

Food: Plankton and krill.

Size: 11 - 20 m (36 - 65.5 ft); 50 - 60 tonnes (110,000 - 132,000 lb).

Maturity: 20 years.

Breeding: Calves born in spring.

Life span: 200 years.

Status: Critically endangered.