1) Bowhead Whales Are Highly Adapted to the Arctic
They have thick blubber to insulate their bodies from the cold temperatures. They have no difficulties with thermoregulation and their skulls are so tough that they break through 2 feet of solid ice to reach the surface. The Western Arctic population lives within the waters of the United States, off the coast of Alaska, in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas.
2) Bowhead Whales are Baleen Whales
Bowhead whales use keratinous filters to strain krill from the water. In fact, they possess the longest baleen plates of any baleen whale species! In 2020, we observed bowhead whales feeding in “krill traps.” These occur when swarms of krill concentrate in the shallow waters of the continental shelf by winds and currents.
The bowhead whale is a critical nutritional, cultural, and spiritual resource for Indigenous subsistence-based communities in Alaska. Subsistence-based communities will use all parts of the whale for food, crafts, and building materials. Many Indigenous Arctic communities have hunted whales for thousands of years and have cultural traditions based around whale hunts. Scientists rely heavily on the knowledge of these communities to better understand this species given their historic contact.
4) Bowhead Whales Have Longer Lifespans than Humans
They reach adulthood and their full size around 25 years. Studies on recovered harpoon tips and individual whales have estimated that these whales may be capable of living well beyond 100 years!
5) Bowhead Whales Rely on Sound to Survive
Bowhead whale survival relies on the ability to hear each other and the sounds in their environment. They are a highly vocal whale species and have a vast repertoire of songs and calls. Bowhead whales are “two-voiced” and can sing at both high and low frequencies at the same time. Taking full advantage of their huge vocal range, they are capable of also making impulsive “gunshot” like sounds. Scientists believe some of their variety of vocalizations are likely used similar to sonar to determine the location of sea ice during navigation.