Whales in the Arctic

The largest mammals in the world live and travel in and out of the Arctic. They aren’t on land. These are big creatures of the sea known as whales.

When you include porpoises and dolphins, a total of 17 different types of whales inhabit Arctic waters. Many whales, such as the grey whale and the humpback whale, follow currents filled with plankton that they feed upon to migrate into the cool Arctic waters in the summer and leave before winter. Three whale species live year-round in the Arctic. They are bowheads, narwhals and belugas.

Dolphins, porpoises and whales are all mammals known as cetaceans. They possess a four- chambered heart, just like you do. Cetaceans are warm blooded, so they maintain a high body temperature. They breathe air through lungs. So, even though they spend all of their time in water, cetaceans must surface to breathe. Hair actually grows on their bodies at some point in their lives, usually in the form of some bristles on their snouts as babies.

There are two main types of whales—those with teeth and the whales that sift their food from the water through filters that are plates hanging down from the upper jaw, known as baleen. There are two blowholes that they breathe through in baleen whales. Baleen whales include sei, humpback, minke, blue, grey, bowhead and the fin whale. Whales with teeth include sperm, narwhal, beluga and pilot whales. Killer whales, also called orcas, have teeth, but officially they aren’t whales. Instead, they’re porpoises. All cetaceans that possess teeth have only one blowhole for breathing.

After filling their lungs with air, whales can stay under water for up to 15-20 minutes. While diving, the air in a whale’s lungs becomes heated and saturated with moisture. Then, as the whale goes to the water surface and breathes, the warm, damp air from their lungs hits the cold air outside and forms a visible column of vapor, known as a spout. Whale watchers scan the horizon for spouts when trying to find whales.

By living in the oceans of the world, whales receive a vast environment to inhabit. More than three-fifths of the earth’s surface is covered with seawater. Unlike on land, there is a greater depth of life support in the seas. Marine life enjoys about three hundred times more space than that enjoyed by terrestrial life.

Whalers began hunting as early as the 16 th century in the Arctic .Whales were wanted for their oil – to use as fuel, to lubricate machinery and to make soaps. As well as this, whale bone was used to make parasol frames, whips, fishing rods, corsets and hoop skirts. In the Arctic , there are several species of whales but there are only three true Arctic whales - the Bowhead, Belugaand the Narwhal.

The giant Bowhead whale has an unusually shaped mouth like a bow, hence its name. Calves are born bluish grey but eventually turn bluish black. It can reach 18 meters long and weigh up to 100 tonnes. They feed on krill, zoo plankton and other small sea creatures, particularly crustaceans.

The ghostly white Beluga whale has a curved mouth, which makes them look as if they are always smiling. They are known as the sea canaries' of the sea due to the noises they make. They have large foreheads, no dorsal fin, no beak, are white in color and can reach to up to four or five meters in length. They feed on squid, octopus, fish, halibut, shrimp, flounder, rockfish, cod, crab and other small sea creatures.

The single tusked Narwhal have a grimy color from a mixture of mottled brown, spotted gray and washed out white. It averages four metres in length and weighs nearly two tonnes. The male Narwhal's left tooth forms a straight ivory tusk and Narwhal's are sometimes called sea unicorns'. Females don't have a tusk. Narwhals feed on crab, salmon, herring, capelin, cod, mollusks, flounder, shrimp and other small sea creatures.

Now, let’s check out the types of whales that live in the arctic.

Bowhead Whale


Beluga Whale

Humpback Whale

Grey Whale

Minke & Orca Whales