Bowhead Whale

Bowhead Whale (Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population)
Balaena mysticetus
NWT List of Species at Risk: 
Not applicable
NWT SARC Assessment: 
Not applicable
Federal Species at Risk Act list: 
Special Concern
COSEWIC Assessment: 
Special Concern
NWT General Status Rank: 

Bowhead whales are members of the baleen whale family. Instead of teeth, baleen whales have a series of large, thin plates of baleen or “whalebone” in their mouths. The whales use baleen to strain small plankton, called krill, out of the sea. Krill is their main food. Bowheads are large, blue-black whales. They form white blotches on the lower jaw as they get older. Males can measure up to 20 m in length and weigh up to 70 tonnes. Their name comes from their upper jaw, which is curved upward like a bow. Whalers called bowheads “right” whales because they were slow and they floated when killed, making them the “right” whales to hunt. Bowhead whales were prized catches because they yielded a large amount of blubber, sometimes more than 35 tonnes, and large baleen plates, which could measure up to 4m. In the 19th century, baleen was much sought after because it had many of the same uses that plastic does today.