The Whales

bowhead whale

The bowhead received its name from the high, arched upper jaw that resembles the shape of an archer’s bow. 

They live exclusively at the southern edges of the arctic ice during winters and move into leads through broken and melting ice during summers. 

The bowhead has a massive body protected from the icy waters by a layer of blubber up to 2 feet (625 cm) thick.  Its head is immense, making up nearly one-third of total body length, with a mouth up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) long. If viewed in cross section the shape of the head is triangular, with a high hard bridge termed a ‘stack’.  This is used to smash through ice up to 2 feet (615 cm) thick to breath.

Bowhead Whale 

17" Long x 5.5" High
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The bowhead is 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18.3 meters) long with flukes 25 feet (7.6 meters) across and short, broad, paddle shaped flippers 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length.  Bowheads usually travel alone or in small groups of up to 6 animals.  Larger congregations may be seen in the feeding grounds.  They are slow swimmers and will retreat under the ice when they are alarmed.  Their eyesight and hearing are excellent, and they vocalize with low moans that at times occur in discrete sequences of sound representing a simple song. 

Commercial whalers discovered the bowhead as early as 1611 in the North Atlantic and 1848 in the Western Arctic.  Unregulated commercial hunting reduced them to the point of extinction.  They have been completely protected since 1946.  However Inuit have hunted “the whale” for centuries and are still allowed to take an allocated number each year for food and oil.  At present the number of bowhead is estimated at less than 9,000.




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