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Bowhead Whale Facts and Photos on this Whale brought to Near Extinction by Commercial Whaling

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The Bowhead Whale, Balaena mysticetus, is a baleen whale that spends its life in the Arctic at the ocean’s surface. Also known as the Greenland Right Whale or Arctic Whale, it is listed by CITES as "threatened with extinction". It is listed as endangered under the United States' Endangered Species Act. It is estimated that there are only about 8,000-12,000 bowhead whales world-wide, their populations have been decimated by commercial whaling.

The bowhead whale is a large whale with a stocky body up to 66 feet long. It is dark grey with a white patch under its lower snout. It has no dorsal fin, but has the largest mouth of any living animal. Like all baleen whales, it feeds on zooplankton, scooping mouthfuls of ocean water that it expresses out, catching food in its up to 9 feet long baleen plates. They are estimated to live to 60 years and some to more than 100 years.

The bowhead whale has a huge skull that it uses to break holes in the ice to breathe. The bowhead whale is social and not aggressive, and will retreat back under the ice when threatened. At the surface, they breathe through two blowholes, spouting several times a minute in a mass of cloud that reaches 20 feet high.  They are usually found in groups of around six animals, swimming slowly to feed. Sometimes breaching, tail-slapping and spyhopping can be observed.

Bowhead whales are hunted for blubber, which is up to 20 inches thick, more than any other animal, and for meat, oil, baleen, and bones.  Commercial whaling began in the 16th century and continued up until the mid-20th century, during which time the population was almost wiped out. Since suspension of commercial whaling, their numbers are slowing increasing, although Alaska natives continue to hunt and kill around 40 animals each year.

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Picture of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, Northwest Territories, Canada, Arctic Ocean

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Stock photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, flukes, Northwest Territories, Canada, Arctic Ocean

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Image of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, surfacing, with long strands of kelp wrapped around the snout, Northwest Territories, Canada, Arctic Ocean

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Photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, fluke , Okhotsk Sea, Arctic

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Illustration of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus

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Stock photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, children dancing on the slaughtered corpse, Linktouik, Alaska

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Image of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, fluke , Okhotsk Sea, Arctic

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Photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, corpse, with polar bear, Ursus maritimus, on the pack ice of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

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Picture of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, fluke , Okhotsk Sea, Arctic

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Stock photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, flukes, North Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, Arctic Ocean

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Image of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, fluke , Okhotsk Sea, Arctic

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Illustration of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus

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Picture of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, polar bear, Ursus maritimus, with the jawbone, 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

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Stock photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, aerial view showing large crown (hump) around blowhole, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, Canadian Arctic

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Image of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, brown bear, Ursus arctos, grizzly bear, Ursus horribils, subadult scavenging on a bowhead whale corpse, 1002 coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

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Pen and ink illustration of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus

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Picture of bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, among ice floes, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, Canadian Arctic

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Stock photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, polar bear, Ursus maritimus, cub scavenging on bones, 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

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Image of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, in arctic ice, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, Canadian Arctic

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Photo of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, fluke , Okhotsk Sea, Arctic

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