Suddenly out of the blue, we hear a blow from a whale. Among the ice floes, a dark coloured body rises above the water’s surface. It is the second largest whale on Earth…a bowhead. These giants can be 200 years old and weigh almost 100 000 kg. That is heavier than 50 pickup trucks.
Bowheads are one of three “ice whales” that live in the Arctic – the other two are narwhals and beluga whales. They have all adapted to the Arctic Ocean’s harsh environment. Bowheads can break through ice up to one metre thick with their immense heads to get a breath or two. Despite their size, they feed on small shrimp by skimming the icy water.
Scientists estimate that the summer sea ice will almost be gone by 2030. This will create opportunities for new shipping lanes through the Arctic. It’s therefore urgent to understand more about whales’ natural migrations to avoid disturbance, including of these slow-moving giants.