Outdoors just for kids 1-15-15

Ever seen a bowhead whale with a cane? No? Well, these big mammals may not use canes, but they certainly get old — possibly living more than 200 years.

Scientists are interested in finding out how the whales that live in the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean can get so old without having age-related diseases like cancer.

Bowhead whales’ ability to live so long is only one of their interesting features. They get their name from their huge head, which takes up about 30 to 40 percent of their entire body. The whales use their massive heads to break through the sea ice.

The whales were hunted to near extinction by humans partly because they have such a thick layer of blubber — up to about 18 inches thick. Blubber used to be boiled down into fuel for lamps before there was electricity. Hunting bowheads now is strictly regulated.

Guess how big a baby bowhead whale is when it is born? They weigh about 2,000 pounds and can measure 13 feet long — that’s a huge baby. The adults can grow to 150,000 to 200,000 pounds and measure 35 to 40 feet long.

Despite their huge size, bowhead whales are what’s known as filter feeders. They take in large mouthfuls of water filled with sea creatures and then squirt the water out through their baleen, which are like brushes that bowheads have instead of teeth. That way they only have the food to swallow and not a bunch of water.

Unlike other whales, bowheads have no dorsal fin — the big one along the back.

So no matter how you look at them, bowheads are an incredibly unusual mammal.

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— Brett French, Gazette

Outdoors editor


Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.