MARINE MAMMAL

Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Found only in Arctic and sub-arctic waters, two feet of blubber protects the massive blue-black body of the bowhead from icy waters. Maximum length can be more than 60 feet and weight may exceed 60 tons. It lives on plankton organisms and various other crustaceans. Consuming approximately 2 tons of food daily, it constantly feeds as it swims slowly with its mouth open. Mating takes place in late spring to early summer. Calves are born from 11 to18 feet long.

While bowheads usually travel alone or in small groups, larger congregations may be observed in their feeding grounds. Because it has become an endangered species due to years of unregulated commercial whaling, an allocated number of bowheads may now only be hunted by Native Alaskans for food and oil. Estimates vary on how many bowheads remain worldwide, but certainly over 8000. Research shows that they may be able to live over 100 years and may be the longest-lived mammal on earth. Named for its arched upper jaw that resembles the shape of an archer’s bow, it was adopted by Alaska in 1983.

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