The bowhead whale is the only member of the genus Balaena of the family Balaenidae. Members of the parvorder Mysticeti, these whales have baleen plates to filter water so they are filter feeders. They live exclusively in the Arctic and sub-Artctic waters and they have the largest mouth of any animal known on Earth.
This whale belongs to the monotypic genus Balaena, meaning that it is the only member. These whales are closely related to right whales of the genus Eubalaena which belong to the same family Balaenidae. First described by Linnaeus in 1758, the bowhead whale was given the binomial name Balaena mysticetus due to it being confused with right whales.
While not the largest-bodied mammals, these whales have the largest mouth in the animal kingdom. The head can measure a third of the entire body, with bowheads being able to
grow as long as 18 meters in length. Females are larger than males as well as heavier, with record weights of up to 100 tons. Bowheads can only be found in the Arctic and-subarctic Ocean, so they have special adaptation for the environment. Their triangular heads are extremely strong at they can pierce through 60 centimeters of ice to breathe. They also have the thickest blubber of all animals, with up to 50 centimeters of blubber.
Bowheads use their baleen plates to filter food. The plates are the longest of any whale, measuring over 3 meters. These are made of keratin, a protein found in fingernails and hair. These whales swim slowly through the water and take in large amounts of water that is rich in crustaceans such as amphipods and copepods. Their large mouths enable them to filter a large quantity of food, with a daily average of 2,000 kilograms consumed. While these whales can swim at speeds up to 10 km per hour, they usually slow down to about 1-2 meters per second when feeding.
A bowhead whale female can give birth to a calf every 3 to 4 years. Breeding has been observed from August to March, with a gestational period of 12 to 14 months. Calf measure 4.5 meters in length and weigh about a ton when born. They will such milk for about a year, after which they will measure almost 9 meters. To survive in the extremely cold waters of the Arctic Ocean, they are born with a thick layer of blubber. Calves can swim 30 minutes after being born.
Bowheads are the longest-living mammals in the world, with recorded ages of over 200 years. Whales have been found with harpoons that were manufactured more than 100 years ago. Although it has been thought that the more cells an animal has, the higher the risk of cancer and aging, it appears that bowheads have highly effective DNA repair mechanisms which have been associated with several genes. The oldest recorded bowhead whale was 211 years old.