Bowhead Whale Eastern Canada-West Greenland population
Scientific Name: Balaena mysticetus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Arctic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2009
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
Image of Bowhead Whale
The Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus) is a large baleen whale in the Balaenidae family. Other common names include the Greenland Whale, Greenland Right Whale and Polar Whale. In northern Aboriginal languages, it is known as Arviq or Arvik (Inuktitut and Inuvialuktun), Agkhovik (Inupiat), Akhgvopik (Yupik) and Ittiv (Chukchi). The Bowhead Whale has the a barrel-shaped body and a very large head (about 30% of total body length). Its upper jaw is bowed sharply upward and each side of upper jaw has on average 330 baleen plates up to 427 cm long. The blubber layer is thick, from 5.5 cm on the chin to about 28 cm over the trunk reaching a maximum of 50 cm. The flippers are small and paddle-shaped, and there is no dorsal fin or dorsal hump. Flukes are pointed at the tip. Calves are 4 to 4.5 m long at birth and brownish black in colour while adults are black in colour with white areas near the chin and tail.
Distribution and Population
Bowhead Whales have a nearly circumpolar distribution in the northern hemisphere, with a territory that covers waters between 54° to 85°N latitude. Physical barriers such as land and impassable ice are believed to have divided the world’s bowheads into four populations, two of which occur in Canada: the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Sea population and the Eastern Arctic – West Greenland population. The Eastern Arctic – West Greenland population was once considered to be made up of two distinct populations (Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin and Davis Strait-Baffin Bay). The extent of occurrence of the Eastern Arctic – Western Greenland population is roughly one million km² and is considered stable. Bowhead Whales from this population summer in western Baffin Bay, the Canadian High Arctic, northern Foxe Basin, and northwestern Hudson Bay. The fall migration occurs over two to three months starting in late August/September. Wintering occurs in areas with unconsolidated pack ice such as northern Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, central Davis Strait, southern Baffin Bay, and off West Greenland. These areas provide shelter and protection from predation.
Bowhead Whales occur in marine waters within areas ranging from open water to thick, unconsolidated pack ice. They break through ice over 20?cm thick with the crown of the head to breathe, and can navigate and communicate under extensive ice fields using their sophisticated acoustic sense.
Bowhead Whales grow and develop slowly, reaching sexual maturity at about 25 years of age. Females grow faster than males and give birth approximately once every three years during the spring migration. Gestation lasts between 12 and 16 months. Lifespan is estimated between 50 and 75 years, with some individuals reaching over 100 years of age. Bowhead Whales feed on crustacean zooplankton such as euphausiids and copepods, which they filter through hair-like material called baleen, by skimming the water under the surface for long periods of time. Epibenthic organisms (mysids and gammariid amphipods) are also consumed. It has been suggested that the annual variability in Bowhead Whale sightings is related to the abundance and distribution of zooplankton.
Commercial whaling was once the greatest threat to the Bowhead Whale and the main reason why the species is at risk in parts of its range. At present, the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) may pose the greatest threat. Other threats may include industrial and manmade underwater noises, net entanglements, collisions with ships, pollution and climate change.
In Canada, this species is afforded protection under the Fisheries Act, and is currently under consideration for listing as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available online at AquaticSpeciesAtRisk.ca or on the SARA Registry at SaraRegistry.gc.ca.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
5 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Assessments (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2009 (2009)2009 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
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