Bowhead whale

They hold the title of heaviest animals, weighing about 100,000 kg

Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

One of the bowhead whale’s most distinctive characteristics is its massive skull, which comprises almost a third of its body length. This robust cranium, combined with a powerful neck musculature, allows the bowhead to break through sea ice up to half a meter thick to breathe at the surface. This ability is crucial for their survival in ice-encrusted waters, where open breathing holes are scarce.

Adding to their impressive adaptations is a thick layer of fat, the thickest of any animal on Earth, measuring up to 50 centimeters (nearly 20 inches). This insulating layer serves not only to protect the whales from the icy Arctic temperatures but also acts as an energy reserve during the long winter months when food can be sparse.

Despite their formidable size and strength, bowhead whales are not immune to the dangers of their environment. They bear the scars of their encounters with the Arctic’s challenges, including injuries from entanglements in fishing gear, collisions with icebergs, and aggressive interactions with one of their few natural predators, the killer whale (orca).

Bowhead whales are among the longest-lived mammals on Earth, with individuals living well over a century, some reportedly reaching 200 years of age. This remarkable longevity is mainly due to their unique genetic adaptations, which include efficient DNA repair mechanisms. Such biological marvels have drawn considerable scientific interest as researchers hope to uncover the secrets behind the bowhead’s extended lifespan and resistance to age-related diseases.

Reproductive maturity in bowhead whales is reached between 20 and 25 years of age, with females giving birth to a single calf after a gestation period of approximately 13 to 14 months. The intervals between births are generally three to four years, indicating a slow reproductive rate that, combined with their long lifespans, influences their population dynamics and conservation status.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Arctic Ocean
2018
Atlantic Ocean
2018
Okhotsk Sea
2018
Bering Sea
2018
Canada
2018
France
2018
Vagrant
Greenland
2018
Iceland
2018
Seasonality Uncertain
Ireland
2018
Vagrant
Norway
2018
Seasonality Uncertain
Russia
2018
Svalbard
2018
United Kingdom
2018
Vagrant
United States
2018
Alaska

Did you know?

  • Unlike most baleen whales, bowheads don’t migrate and seldom leave polar water.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No