December 5, 2011

Bowhead whales

These Arctic heavyweights use their massive bow-shaped heads to crash through sea ice—and they also smash a couple of records. Weighing in at up to 60 tons, bowhead whales hold the record for the biggest mouth of any living animal and they have the densest blubber, measuring up to 2-feet thick.

In a whale’s world it’s a bonus to be big, and that means bowheads have few natural predators. Even so, by the early 20th century, whalers had nearly pushed the population into the abyss, relentlessly hunting bowheads for their bones and blubber—key ingredients in household products of the day like corsets and oil.

Today many countries including the United States have strict laws prohibiting commercial whaling, but threats persist. Scientists say that new plans to drill for oil off Alaska’s northern coast could harm these graceful goliaths. If they’re right, being “hardheaded” may not be enough for bowheads to hang on.

Read more in the latest issue of Defenders.

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