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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Bowhead Whale in Canada

COSEWIC Status Report
on the
Bowhead Whale
Balaena mysticetus

Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin population
Davis Strait-Baffin Bay population
Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population

in Canada

Species Information

Name and Classification

The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) (Linnaeus 1758) is a baleen whale in the family Balaenidae. It is also known as the Greenland whale, Greenland right whale, or polar whale in the English language. In the French language it is known as baleine boréale. In Aboriginal languages of northern Canada, Alaska and Russia, the bowhead whale is known as Arviq or Arvik (Inuktitut and Inuvialuktun), Agkhovik (Inupiat), Akhgvopik (Yupik), or Ittiv (Chukchi).


The bowhead is one of the stockiest of the baleen whales, with a barrel-shaped body and a very large head (about 30% of the total body length) (Figure 1). The upper jaw is bowed sharply upward and there is an average of 330 baleen plates up to 427 cm long in each side of the upper jaw (Haldiman and Tarpley 1993). The flippers are small and paddle-shaped, and there is no dorsal fin or dorsal hump. Flukes are pointed at the tips and deeply notched on the rear margin (Haldiman and Tarpley 1993).

Figure 1: Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Figure 1: Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus).

The body is basically black with regional white (nonpigmented) areas on or around the chin, eyelids, flipper insertions, ano-genital area, tail stock, and flukes (Haldiman and Tarpley 1993). Areas of intermingled light-gray and white epidermis (speckled appearance) occur on some individuals in various body regions (Haldiman and Tarpley 1993).