Why do bowhead whales have such large heads?

BBC Wildlife expert Stuart Blackman answers your wild question.

A
a
-
Bowhead whale surfacing

Bowhead whale surfacing © Michael Nolan : Robert Harding / Getty

 

An adult bowhead’s head accounts for approximately two fifths of its body length. These Arctic giants specialise in particularly small crustacean prey, so they need a large amount of baleen to filter sufficient quantities from the water.

About 640 baleen plates hang from its upper jaw and, at 4m in length, they are the longest of any whale’s – hence the need for a super-sized head.

Calves don’t develop these front-heavy proportions until they have been weaned. Their bodies virtually stop growing for a few years as they channel resources into their front ends. The youngsters even dismantle bone tissue laid down in their ribs while they were suckling and redistribute it to the skull and baleen areas to accelerate growth. 

 

Click here to read more of our Wildlife Q&As.

 

Do you have a wildlife question you’d like answered? Email your question to wildquestions@immediate.co.uk or post it to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN

We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here