Species Profile

Bowhead Whale Eastern Arctic population

Scientific Name: Balaena mysticetus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Arctic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2005
Last COSEWIC Designation: Non-active
SARA Status: Schedule 2, Endangered - (SARA Schedule 1 provisions do not apply)

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Image of Bowhead Whale

Bowhead Whale Photo 1
Bowhead Whale Photo 2



The Bowhead Whale has a very large head, with a great mouth. It is mainly blue-black in colour, with cream-colored blotches on the lower part of the jaw, and white blotches on the belly; there is a pale grey area on the tail. These whales can attain a length of 20 m; females are larger than males. The blubber on these whales is very thick (up to 45 cm). At birth, a calf measures 4 m in length. The Bowhead is larger than the Right Whale, which it closely resembles.


Distribution and Population

The Bowhead Whale is found in Arctic and subarctic waters from Wrangell Island, Siberia, to Spitzbergen. In Canada, the Bowhead Whale is found in the western Arctic, in the area of the Beaufort Sea; and in the eastern Arctic, in the Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, along the east coast of Baffin Island, in the Hudson Strait and in Roes Welcome Sound.



The Bowhead Whale inhabits Arctic and subarctic waters. It is seldom found far from ice-floes, and is one of the few whales that can live so far north. When it migrates south to its summer range, it frequents bays, straits and estuaries. It is always found near the ice edge, migrating north and south as the ice retreats or expands.



Very little is known about the reproduction of the Bowhead Whale. The gestation period is 10 to 12 months. Usually only one calf is born, although twins do occur. Calves have been seen in the Labrador Sea in March and April, and in the Chukchi Sea (northwest of Alaska) in May.


This species is now endangered throughout the world because of excessive whaling, which severely depleted the stocks of Bowhead Whales. It is possible that climatic factors which influence ice conditions may affect both the survival and the distribution of Bowhead Whales. Offshore developments in the Beaufort Sea may also be a problem; both the traffic and the noise associated with such developments can adversely affect whale populations. These whales are still harvested in Alaska.



Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Conservation Strategy for Bowhead Whales in Eastern Canadian Arctic
Status RENEW Publication



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.

1 record(s) found.