Friday, October 3, 2008

Bowhead Whale Sanctuary Opens In Northern Canada

Bowhead whales live exclusively in the Arctic Ocean and the sub-Arctic waters of the north Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. These slow-moving mammals grow up to 19 m (65’) in length and are among the longest-lived - if not, the longest-lived - mammals on earth. In fact, they are still growing after the age of fifty. Females are sexually mature at 10 – 15 years; but, bear young only once every 3 – 4 years. Their slow reproduction rate combined with losses due to whale hunting makes them an endangered species today.

Scientific tests done on both bowhead carcasses and the harpoon points that have been found healed within their bodies prove that some of these whales have lived to be 200+ years. Their actual lifespan is still unknown at this time.

An extensive area off the coast of Baffin Island, Nunavut, known as Niginganiq, has become Canada’s newest National Wildlife area. This area contains critical habitat for threatened bowhead whales. The newly-protected area includes two deep offshore troughs that are rich in copepods (plankton-type crustaceans less than an inch long), a main food source for the 70 ton bowhead whale. The bowhead is a baleen whale meaning that instead of teeth it has rows of baleen strips that act as a strainer. The whale takes in great mouthfuls of water and food forcing the water back out through the baleen strips straining out the plankton and other food before swallowing.

This area also includes a shallow shelf at the entrance to the bay that provides protection from the bowheads’ only natural enemy the orca whale. Other species that share this cold domain and will benefit from this sanctuary include polar bears, ringed seals, Arctic char, Halibut, Narwhal, Canada geese, Snow geese and King Eider.

Niginganiq is located on the northeast coast of Baffin Island, near the community of Clyde River. Also referred to as Isabella Bay or Igaliqtuuq, this area is a pristine late summer and fall feeding and resting stopover for a large proportion of the threatened Davis Strait-Baffin Bay bowhead whale population. During this time, an estimated 1,500 – 2,000 bowheads inhabit Niginganiq.

The return of the bowhead whale each year to this unique marine habitat signals hope for this threatened species. Permanent protection of this critical habitat will ensure the whales have a safe place to return each year.

1 comment:

Kathi said...

Hail Canada!! Save the whales!!