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Bowhead Whale

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The Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus), also known as the Greenland Right Whale, is the only baleen whale to spend the entire year in Arctic waters, its range stretching from Siberia in the west, to the Bering Sea in the east. It is also the possessor of the largest mouth in the animal kingdom, and at 14-17 feet (4-5m) its baleen is the longest of any whale. It spends much its life following the advance and retreat of the Arctic sea ice, and lives in total darkness during the long Arctic winter. Bowhead Whales make frequent low sounds, particularly when migrating, and are thought to passively echolocate using the echo of their calls off the sea ice.

It is the stockiest and most rotund of the baleen whales, and like the Right Whale it lacks a dorsal fin. Fully grown whales are 46-50 feet (14-15m) in length, and 50-60 tons in weight. Females give birth in mid winter to a single calf, or occasionally twins, 13 feet (4m) in length, after gestation period of 12-16 months.

The Bowhead is a surface feeder, its diet consisting of vast quantities of very smalls crustaceans - copepods, steropods, and krill. Despite its conspicuous size and slow moving nature, individuals do sometimes breach and often raise their tail flukes out of the water before diving. It was the second species after the Right Whale to be targeted by the whaling industry, and was driven to commercial extinction. Today a few are allowed to be taken each year by Inuit and other aboriginal groups in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, but the population has rebounded.

You can observe Bowhead Whales on a Bear Trails tour to Nunavut in September and October.

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