The bowhead whale spends its entire life in cold polar waters. With his blowhole, he breaks open 30-centimeter thicknesses of ice. Submerged under water for 40 minutes and to a depth of 3.5 km. Claims to be the longest-lived mammal: some individuals live more than 100 years! It entered folklore as a prototype of the character Chudo-Yudo Fish-Whale. It's all about the bowhead whale.
Origin of the species and description
The bowhead whale has several names: polar or whiskered. It belongs to the suborder of the toothless and is a separate species. Whales have existed on the planet for more than 50 million years and are rightfully considered the oldest inhabitants of the Earth. Cetaceans belong to the class of mammals, and land animals were their ancestors.
The following signs indicate this:
- the need to breathe air with the lungs;
- the similarity of the bones of the fins of cetaceans and the bones of the limbs of land animals;
- the vertical maneuvers of the tail and the movements of the spine resemble the running of a terrestrial mammal, rather than the horizontal swimming of a fish.
True, there is no single version about which prehistoric animal was the progenitor. Today, there are several versions of the origin of the baleen cetacean:
- some studies by scientists prove a relationship between whales and artiodactyls, in particular with hippos.
- other researchers find the similarity of whales with the most ancient Pakistani whales or pakisets. They were predatory mammals and foraged in the water. Presumably, for these reasons, the body evolved into an amphibious and then into an aquatic habitat.
- another theory proves the origin of whales from land mammals of Mesonychia. They were wolf-like creatures with hooves like those of cows. Predators also hunted in the water. Because of what their bodies have undergone changes and completely adapted to the water.
Appearance and features
Greenland, after the fin whale and the blue whale, the third world heavyweight. Its weight is up to 100 tons. The body length of the female reaches 18 meters, and the males up to 17 meters. The dark gray color of the animal contrasts with the light arched lower jaw. This feature distinguishes polar whales from their counterparts.
Another feature of — jaw sizes. They are the largest among cetaceans. The mouth is located high on the head. The lower jaw protrudes slightly forward and much less than the upper. On it are whalebones – organs of touch. They are thin and long — 3-4.5 meters. There are more than 300 bone plates in the mouth. They help whales find plankton aggregations successfully.
The head is one third of the entire length of the whale. In the structure, there is even a certain semblance of a neck. On the crown of the giant fish is a blowhole — these are two small slits-nostrils. Through them, the whale pushes meter fountains of water. The force of the jet has incredible power and can break through 30 cm of ice. Incredibly, their body temperature is 36 – 40 degrees. A half-meter subcutaneous layer of fat helps to cope with pressure during diving and maintain normal temperature. Taste buds, like the sense of smell, are not developed, so cetaceans do not distinguish between sweet, bitter, sour tastes and smells.
Sight is weak and short-sighted. Small eyes, covered with a thick cornea, are located near the corners of the mouth. The auricles are absent, but the hearing is excellent. For whales, this is an important sensory organ. The inner ear distinguishes between wide range sound waves and even ultrasound. Therefore, whales are perfectly oriented at depth. They are able to determine distance and location.
The body of a gigantic «sea monster» streamlined and without outgrowths. Therefore, whales do not parasitize crustaceans and lice. At «polar explorers» there is no fin on the back, but there are fins on the sides and a powerful tail. Halftone heart reaches the size of a car. Whales regularly cleanse their lungs of nitrogen. To do this, they release jets of water through the parietal slits. This is how baleen whales breathe.
Where does the bowhead whale live?
The polar waters of the planet are the only haven for bowhead whales. Once they lived in all the northern waters of the hemisphere of the planet. The number of huge waterfowl often hampered the movement of ships. Especially in winter, when the whales returned to the coastal zone. Sailors needed skill to maneuver between them.
However, over the past century, the number of bowhead whales has declined catastrophically. Now there are up to 1000 individuals in the North Atlantic, another 7000 in the northern Pacific Ocean. The brutal, deadly cold environment makes it almost impossible to fully explore whales.
Mammals are constantly migrating due to ice floes and temperatures. Mustachioed giants love clear waters and move away from the ice, trying not to swim in temperatures below 45 degrees. It happens that, while paving the way, the whales have to break open small thicknesses of ice. In exceptional cases, in case of life threats, the ice crust helps «polar explorers» disguise themselves.
What does the bowhead whale eat?
The aquatic mammal is conditionally classified as a predator due to its incredible size. However, the bowhead whale regales itself monotonously – only plankton, mollusks and crustaceans. The animal, drifting in the water column with its mouth open, swallows it. Filtered plankton and small crustaceans remain on the mustache plates. Then the food is removed and swallowed with the tongue.
A whale filters about 50,000 microorganisms per minute. To be full, an adult must eat two tons of plankton per day. Water giants accumulate enough fat by autumn. This helps the animals not to die of hunger and stretch until spring. Bowhead whales gather in small flocks of up to 14 individuals. In a V-shaped group, they migrate by filtering water.
Character and lifestyle features
Bowhead whales are able to dive to a depth of 200 meters and not surface for 40 minutes. Often, unnecessarily, the animal does not dive so deep and stays under water for up to 15 minutes. Long dives, up to 60 minutes, can only be made by injured individuals.
There are cases when researchers have seen sleeping whales. In a state of sleep, they lie on the surface. The fat layer allows you to stay on the water. The body gradually sinks to the depth. Having reached a certain level, the mammal strikes with a huge tail and the whale resurfaces.
It's not often you see polar giants jumping out of the water. Previously, they flap their fins and raise their tail vertically, making single jumps. Then the head and part of the body float up, and then the mustachioed fish turns sharply on its side and hits the water. Emergences occur during migrations in the spring, and young growth during this period likes to play with objects in the water.
Polar whales do not swim in one place and constantly migrate: in summer they swim to northern waters, and in winter they return to the coastal zone. The migration process takes place in an organized way: the group is built in a jamb and thus increases the productivity of hunting. The flock breaks up as soon as it arrives at the place. Some individuals prefer to swim alone, others — huddle in small flocks.
Social Structure and Reproduction
During the spring-autumn migration processes, polar whales break into three flocks: mature individuals, young sexually mature and immature individuals gather separately. With the onset of spring, bowhead whales migrate to northern waters. In studies of whale behavior, it has been noted that females and calves have a privileged right to feed first. The rest of the group is built behind them.
The mating season falls on the spring-summer season. Whale courtship is varied and romantic:
- partners rotate around themselves;
- jump out of the water;
- grasp and stroke each other with pectoral fins;
- breathing sounds-«groans»;
- polygamous males also lure females with composed songs, updating the «repertoire» from mating to mating.
Birth, like mating, takes place at the same time of the year. A calf of a bowhead whale is hatched for a little over a year. The female gives birth only once every three years. The babies are born in cold waters and live in the harsh icy waters of the North. This greatly complicates the study of the life of newborn polar whales.
It is known that a whale is born up to 5 meters long. The mother immediately pushes him to the surface to inhale the air. Whale babies are born with a full fat layer of 15 cm, which helps the baby survive in icy waters. On the first day from birth, the baby will receive more than 100 liters of maternal food.
The mother whale's milk is quite thick – 50% fat and high in protein. For a year of breastfeeding, a round, like a barrel, whale will stretch up to 15 meters and gain weight up to 50-60 tons. The female will nurse for the first twelve months. Gradually, the mother will teach him to independently harvest plankton.
After breastfeeding, the calf swims with the mother for a couple of years. Female bowhead whales are kind to their offspring. They not only feed for a long time, but also fiercely protect from enemies. A killer whale will get hurt badly from the fin of an polar whale if it tries to encroach on the life of a child.
Natural enemies of the bowhead whale
Due to the huge size of the body, no one encroaches on the tranquility of bowhead whales. It is hard to imagine that giant animals are shy. If a seagull sits on its back, the whale will instantly dive under the water. And it will emerge only when the birds fly away.
Also, polar giant fish have adapted to hide from potential danger under a cap of ice. When the waters of the ocean freeze, bowhead whales will begin to swim under the ice sheet. To survive, they punch holes in the ice for breathing and remain inaccessible to predators.
The only danger may be killer whales, or killer whales. They hunt one bowhead whale in a large flock of 30-40 individuals. Studies of northern whales showed that a third had marks from a battle with killer whales. However, the attacks of killer whales do not compare with the harm from humans.
Population and species status
Man is the main and merciless enemy of the northern whale. People exterminated whales for the sake of a weighty mustache, tons of meat and fat. The Eskimos and Chukchi have hunted cetaceans for millennia. Hunting scenes were reflected in rock paintings. Different parts of the mammal's body were used for food, in the construction of dwellings, and in the production of fuel and tools.
Hunting for sea giants was commonplace already in the 17th century. The slow and clumsy animal is easy to overtake on a primitive boat with oars. In the old days, whales were hunted with spears and harpoons. A dead whale does not sink in water, which made it easier to hunt for it. By the 20th century, the whaling industry had driven this species to the brink of extinction. The memoirs of the captain of the ship going to Svalbard in the 17th century have come down to us. The number of these whales was such that the ship «was making its way» by the giants playing in the water.
Today, scientists are confident that no more than eleven thousand polar whales remain on Earth. In 1935, a ban on the production of the bowhead whale was established. Hunting has become strictly limited. In the 70s, an aquatic mammal was recognized as an endangered species, listed in the Red Book under legal protection. The population in the North Atlantic and Sea of Okhotsk waters is under the threat of complete extinction. The Bering-Chukotian herd belongs to the third category of rarity.
Protection of the bowhead whale
Protection of the population is aimed at reducing or completely prohibiting hunting. Local residents – Eskimos and Chukchis – have the right to kill one individual in two years. Northern whales need effective methods of protection and study of ecology. Population growth is slow – females give birth to one baby every three to seven years. It is believed that the whales have stabilized their numbers, but at a low level.
The bowhead whale is the oldest animal on the planet, striking in its gigantic size. The touching ability to care for partners and a cub is secreted by mammals. As is often the case, humanity is brutally interfering with the ecosystems of nature. The thoughtless extermination of northern whales has led to the fact that the Earth may lose another unique species of living creatures.