Re: polar whales

From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Fri Apr 19 2002 - 07:04:40 EDT

Hi Diana:

Well your granddaughter is right (aren't they always?!) The polar whale
is an old and not-often-used name for the bowhead whale, which (just to
confuse you further) was also known as the Greenland right whale. The
scientific name is Balaena mysticetus. Bowheads live their entire lives
in Arctic or sub-Arctic waters; they are found only in the Northern
Hemisphere, and get to perhaps 65 or 70 feet in length and weights of
more than 100 tons. They're very robust (read "fat") animals, with very
thick blubber to help them survive in the frigid polar waters.

Bowheads are also remarkable for their longevity. We don't know for
sure how long they live, but it's clearly well in excess of a century;
some scientists think it may be 150 years or more.

There are a few populations of bowheads. The largest and healthiest is
that of the Bering-Beaufort-Chukchi Seas which - despite the fact that
it's still the target of a (well-regulated) Eskimo hunt - is doing very
well at around 9,000 animals. The Atlantic populations are in much
worse shape, with perhaps a few hundred remaining in the Hudson Bay and
Baffin Bay areas, and only a handful in the Spitsbergen population.
One other population lives in the Okhotsk Sea, and is probably a few
hundred whales. Bowheads were hunted very early and very intensively,
largely for their oil and baleen.

Hope this helps!

Phil Clapham wrote:
> Is there such a thing as the Polar Whale. My granddaughter thinks
> there is but I cannot find any information on this creature. Thanks
> for your help. Diana Coyne


Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543, U.S.A.

tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email:

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