Global warming factors
An increase in global warming would see bowhead whales moving further north. As the ice in the many channels of the Northwest Passage decreases, eastern and western populations of bowhead whales will likely overlap, causing a major change to their distribution.
Although humans harvest a few bowheads each year, killer whales travelling in pods are natural predators of bowhead whales. The northward movement of killer whales, as the Arctic waters lose their ice cover, may lead to increased predation on bowhead whales.
As bowhead whales live only in the Arctic region, they have adapted to the region’s cold climate. Adaptations include a thick blubber that provides the whale with insulation against the cold water; the absence of a dorsal, or back, fin, which allows the whale to surface through the sea ice without suffering injury; and a massive head that can break through the ice for a breathing hole.
Food for thought
Hanging from the roof of a bowhead whale’s mouth are huge plates of baleen. The head and upper jaw are bow-shaped to accommodate the baleen, hence its name.
Baleen is made of keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails and hair. The baleen plates are used in feeding to filter out water and trap small organisms known as krill or plankton. Bowhead whales open their large mouths to allow a large amount of water to enter. The whale then pushes the water out through the baleen with its tongue and the mass of small organisms is swallowed.