Balaenidae – Right & bowhead whales

Distinguished from other whales by arched upper jaws in their exceptionally large heads

These species have been heavily impacted by whaling, leading to the near-extinction of several populations and earning the right whale its name for being the “right” whale to hunt. Their slow swimming speeds, tendency to float when killed, and high oil content made them prime targets for whalers, resulting in a dramatic decline in their numbers.

North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales, with populations critically endangered, face ongoing threats from ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, and changes in their marine environment. Conservation efforts are crucial for their survival, focusing on protective regulations, monitoring populations, and habitat preservation to support their recovery.

The bowhead whale, residing primarily in the icy waters of the Arctic, showcases remarkable adaptations to its environment. Its name derives from its distinctive bow-shaped skull, which is an impressive physical feature and a functional tool used to break through sea ice, allowing the whale to access oxygen in frozen-over waters. Bowheads have the thickest blubber of any whale species, providing insulation against the cold and energy reserves.

What sets the bowhead whale apart in the cetacean world is its vocal behavior. Researchers have likened bowhead whales to “jazz musicians of the sea” due to the incredible variability and complexity of their songs. These vocalizations are not just simple calls but elaborate compositions that can last for hours or even days, serving purposes ranging from communication within the species to navigation through the dark, ice-covered waters.

Bowhead whales have also fascinated scientists with their longevity. Some individuals are believed to live over 200 years, making them one of the longest-lived mammals on Earth. This extraordinary lifespan raises intriguing questions about their biology and the mechanisms behind their aging process.