Bowhead Whale

Bowhead Whales.


  • Common name: Bowhead Whale
  • Scientific name: Balaena mysticetus
  • Order: Cetacea
  • Family: Balaenidae

Other names

Arctic Right Whale, Polar Whale, Greenland Right Whale

Viewing opportunities

  • Bowheads are usually seen far off the Yukon’s north shore in late July through September.


  • Large, robust body.
  • Smooth back with no dorsal fin.
  • Large head with strongly bowed lower jaw.
  • Long baleen “teeth.”

Fast Facts

  • Length: 20 m
  • Weight: 75 to 100 tonnes
  • Lifespan: 60 to 100 years
  • Predators: Humans
  • Habitat: Marine and Coastal

Conservation status

What is conservation status?

  • Yukon: S3 (Vulnerable)
  • Global: G3 (Vulnerable)

Yukon population estimate

Not determined.


The Bowhead Whale is social and non–aggressive, usually travelling alone or in groups of up to 6. It is a slow swimmer and can stay submerged for up to 40 minutes but is not thought to be a deep diver. It is highly vocal and will sometimes display breeching, tail slapping, and spyhopping.


Crustaceans like plankton


Bowhead Whale distribution map.

Sights and sounds

Whales and people:

  • Bowheads were easy targets for whalers because they are slow moving.
  • Blubber was rendered into oil for use in street lamps, lubricants, tanning and steel tempering until commercial whaling was ended during the 20th century.
  • Baleen was used for hair brushes, typewriter springs, umbrella ribs, fishing rods and corsets until whaling became unprofitable in the 20th century.
  • Herschel Island was a whaling base until the early 1900s.
  • Bowheads are protected from commercial whaling with some subsistence harvest allowed for Inuit people.