Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bowhead Whale

Well, Mythological Creatures Week is now over and I certainly had an interesting time fishing for information on some well, and not so well known legendary beasts. But alas! It is time to return to the realm of fact!

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I've been reading Philip Hoare's The Whale lately, (which will be up on the Bibliography once I actually finish it) and have stumbled across a fact that blew my mind. Bowhead Whales (Balaena mysticetus) can live to be over 200 years old. Until a few decades ago, no one really thought that these rare, Arctic dwellers lived any longer than the standard 60-70 years for whale... and then they found the harpoons. Individual whales were found that had harpoon tips that hadn't been manufactured since the 1860s and 70s. Those whales had been swimming around with broken tips in their skin for over a hundred years. More and more specimens were found with these odd instruments, and with subsequent Amino Acid testing it has now been determined that Bowheads can live to a ripe age of 200. How do they do it? Well, their year-round Arctic habitat probably helps to slow down their metabolism. They are one of the few whales that live in such conditions for their entire lives.

Bowhead Whales are baleen whales, meaning that they consume plankton which is filtered through large keratin plates in their mouths. The baleen of a Bowhead can grow up to 13ft in length, which made it highly sought after by the commercial whaling industry. Bowheads are so named because their heads resemble an archer's bow, and the almost triangular shape of their head may help them to break through the Arctic Ice. Bowheads are able to reach lengths of 50ft, and weights of 60tons. They resemble the three Right Whale species that share their family, Balaenidae, but they are the only extant species within their genus.

Sadly, the Bowhead Whale was hunted to near extinction for their oil and baleen. A ban on hunting since the 1980s has allowed their numbers to steadily rise, and now only indigenous peoples are able to collect set numbers of them each year. The total worldwide population is unknown.

1 comment:

  1. Great post on the bowhead whale. Brief but very informative.


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