Bowhead Whale
Balaena mysticetus

Other Names: Great Polar Whale, Arctic Whale, Arctic Right Whale, Greenland Right Whale, Greenland Whale

Habitat: Inshore and occasionally offshore

Status: Rare

Population: 6,000 - 12,000

Threats: Habitat destruction, pollution, and hunting/whaling

Group Size: 1-6, loose groups of up to 60 (rare)

Fin Position: No fin

Newborns: 13 -14 ft (4-4.5 m), Unknown

Adults: 46-59 ft (14-18 m), 60-100 tons

Diet: Krill or other crustaceans and other invertebrates

Baleen: 230-360 baleen plates on each side



- pointed tips
- slightly concave trailing edges
- distinct notch in middle
- flukes' width can be almost half of total body length
- may have white trailing edges on upper sides


- broad, paddle-shaped


- head approximately one-third of animal's entire length
- pronounced indentation behind blowhole
- huge, bowed mouth line
- "necklace" of black spots
- irregular white patch on chin

Head (from above):

- widely separated blowholes
- white chin
- narrow, arched rostrum
- triangular shape of head (side view)


- most plates dark gray or black (fringes may be lighter)
- longest plates in middle of jaw
- may be over 9 ft (3 m) long
- "curtains" of baleen hang from rostrum only


- some calves born lighter in color (sometimes almost white) and darken with age
- calf usually more stubby and barrel-shaped than adult
- pale bluish black body, sometimes appears light gray through water
- born from March to August
- mature females probably give birth every 2 to 7 years

Other characteristics:

- rounded back
- no dorsal fin, hump, or ridge
- large, thickset body
- pale gray or white around thinnest part of tail stock (in some individuals only)
- smooth skin, with no callosities or growths
- blubber is up to 28 in (70 cm) thick


- occasionally breaches, lobtails, flipper slaps, and spyhops (usually alone)
- young animals may play with objects in the water
- it feeds at or below the surface and possibly along the sea floor; may move slowly at the surface with mouth wide open
- sometimes feed cooperatively
- slow swimmer
- typically spends 1 to 3 minutes at the surface, blowing 4 to 6 times
- may dive to more than 655 ft (200 m); average dive time 4 to 20 minutes, but longer dives have been seen
- often surfaces in the same place
- the widely separate blowholes produce a bushy, V-shaped blow rising to 23 ft (7 m)


- cold Arctic and subarctic waters, rarely far from edge of pack ice
- there are 4 distinct populations: Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, northern Hudson Bay, and Foxe Basin; Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas; Sea of Okhotsk; and the North Atlantic (virtually extinct)
- not known if the populations mix
- spends most of life at edge of Arctic pack ice (especially where over 70 percent ice cover)
- short seasonal migrations related to formation and movement of ice (north in summer, south in winter)

TMMSN Galveston

TMMSN Corpus Christi

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This page was created by:Candice Orca Mottet